TERRE HAUTE —
When your high school football team has most of its starters back and one of them has been featured on national television several times recently, it’s probably a reason for optimism. Mark Raetz would agree with that assessment.
“We’re definitely excited,” the Terre Haute South coach said recently. “We’ve got a large senior class — more than 20 of them — with varsity experience, and we have 10 starters back on offense and six on defense.”
History is on the Braves’ side too — to a point.
Last year South showed its potential early with a solid win at Martinsville, an overtime decision over archrival Terre Haute North and a one-sided decision over Vincennes Lincoln.
But injuries were taking their toll on the Braves by that time, and what figured to be an interesting year in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference turned instead into a six-game losing streak, plus a sectional setback at Brownsburg.
South’s performance in its controlled scrimmage against Northview on Friday would seem to indicate that the Braves who got off to that 3-0 start are back. If they stay healthy, they have a chance to be a very interesting team again.
The most famous Brave right now is senior quarterback Danny Etling (6-foot-3, 215), an invitee to the prestigous Elite 11 tryouts and close to being among the 11 finalists in a competition among 25 of the nation’s best at that position.
Etling was a big reason for his team’s fast start last fall, but his receiving corps was hit inordinately hard by the rash of injuries. This year he has plenty of targets.
The starting wide receivers are expected to be seniors Tyler Seibert (6-2, 175) and Logan Steward (6-0, 175) and junior Jacob Johnson (5-11, 170). Seibert missed several games last year and Steward suffered a knee injury that cost him all but the first six quarters of the campaign — although Johnson, a regular defensive back as a freshman, was able to get some valuable experience as a result.
Complementing the wideouts will be senior tight end Nic Keller (6-2, 210), who caught a pair of touchdown passes against the Knights. Senior Jeremy Patterson (6-4, 175) is an experienced reserve on the outside and junior Tyler Dobbins (6-5, 250) backs up Keller.
The main offensive starter missing is running back Tyler Evans, now at Indiana State. When the Braves use a single-back offensive set this fall, either senior Pedro Piloni (5-7, 200), junior Ian Newton (5-7, 160) or sophomore Michael Watt (5-7, 175) will be behind Etling. If a fullback is used, Piloni could go there, and veteran lineman Dylan Banks (6-1, 215) has also changed his uniform number to enable him to be used in the backfield.
Keeping Etling upright will also be necessary for the Braves to be successful, and the offensive line for the Braves looks strong and experienced. Returning starters are senior center Zac Harper (6-3, 265), senior guard Brandon Russell-Cherry (6-1, 230), senior tackle Adam Scott (6-3, 225) and junior tackle Dickie Rollins (6-3, 250).
Terre Haute North transfer Junior Berry (6-2, 300), who is a junior, figures to start at the other guard position and a fifth returning starter, senior Bobby Bennett (6-2, 255) will be available after two games. Another experienced reserve is senior Danny Banks (6-1, 220), Dylan’s twin.
Many of the offensive linemen will do double duty, as senior end Howie Lawson (6-1, 200) is the only defensive line starter who isn’t listed on both sides of the ball. Russell-Cherry, Berry and Keller could be the other starters up front, backed up by Rollins, Dobbins, Scott and junior Jacob Stephens (6-2, 225).
Senior Derik Whalen (5-9, 180) leads a linebacking corps that also includes Dylan Banks, withjunior Logan Deady (6-2, 185) at South’s strong safety position. Danny Banks and senior Trevor Thomas (6-0, 180) are experienced backups, Piloni could see action there as well, and sophomore Timmy Herrin (6-4, 180), also the backup quarterback, is behind Deady.
Seibert and senior Kane Wilford (6-2, 190) will be on the corners, with hard-hitting senior Dillon Bell (6-0, 170) and Johnson as the safeties. Also figuring in the secondary are junior Taxi Brown (5-9, 175), junior Luke Church (5-7, 140) and senior Jonathan Weakley (5-11, 170).
Senior Adam Kahn (5-10, 160) will be the kicker and is also available to punt, although Patterson will get the first crack at that job. Dobbins is also available to kick.
South’s captains, as voted by their teammates, are Etling, Russell-Cherry, Seibert and Whalen.
“We have some big shoes to fill in some big spots,” said Raetz, pointing especially to the loss of Evans and his current ISU teammate Tsali Lough, a South All-Star during the summer, “but we had a good summer.
“We’re trying to create some competition [for starting positions] to see who will emerge and to discover some depth.”
Terre Haute South schedule
Friday — At Indian Creek, 7 p.m.
Aug. 24 — Terre Haute North* at Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 — At Vincennes Lincoln, 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 — At Carmel*, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 — At Center Grove*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 — Ben Davis*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 — Indianapolis North Central*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 — At Warren Central*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 — Lawrence North*, 7:30 p.m.
* — denotes Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference game