WEST TERRE HAUTE —
Now that West Vigo got its exhibition scrimmage out of the way last week, it’s time for the defending co-Western Indiana Conference champion to get started for real in high school football Friday at Evansville Harrison.
Ninth-year coach Jeff Cobb thinks fans will see a team that looks similar to last season’s squad that finished 6-4 overall and 5-1 in the WIC.
“This is the second year of running our flex-bone offense,” he explained. “And we can already see major improvements from this time last year, especially passing-wise.”
Jimmy Maples — a 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior — is back to do most of the throwing from the quarterback position.
“He is very agile, very elusive,” Cobb pointed out. “He causes defenses some problems. Jimmy also has improved as a passer and as a leader. Overall, I expect a strong season from Jimmy.”
Cobb named senior Skyler Warnock (5-10, 180) and sophomore Dakota Short (6-2, 220) as two of his primary running backs, with freshman Lane Burke (5-10, 170) and sophomore Hunter Voils (6-1, 170) also rotating into the three-back system.
“They’re both powerful running backs, very strong kids,” Cobb said of Warnock and Short. “People are really going to have to square up to tackle them.”
Cobb described Burke and Voils as “pretty elusive players … a lot of speed with both of them,” adding that Voils again will handle placekicking and punting duties.
Returning starter Tyler Gustafson, a 6-0, 190-pound senior, will line up as one wide receiver. The other is likely to be split between sophomore Daniel McClain (6-2, 180) and freshman Tyler Kernstein (6-2, 175).
“Our receiving corps is very tall,” Cobb mentioned, adding that he doesn’t use a tight end in the flex bone. “This is probably the most athletic receiving group we’ve had, if you throw in the slotbacks [Burke and Voils].”
Returning for the offensive line is team captain Sam McClain (6-0, 215, senior).
“That [offensive line] is where we were hit hardest with graduation,” Cobb admitted. “It’s probably my biggest worry.”
The Vikings’ coach hopes junior center Garrett Ray (5-7, 210) and senior guard Tyler Bell (5-8, 200) can step in and play like veterans as he helps assemble the rest of the O-line.
Cobb summarized the offense this way: “If we continue to grow together, I think we’ll be very hard to stop. Our biggest concern is the offensive line and them gelling as a group.”
Turning to defense, Cobb said returning starters on the line are Sam McClain and Gustafson at ends and junior Ryan Hackett (5-9, 250) at tackle, while the other DT had not been determined as of last weekend.
Three of the four linebackers are returning starters — Short on the inside and Warnock and senior Sam Bowden (5-7, 165) on the outside — while the new starter is junior Isaac Boatman (5-10, 175) on the inside.
“I think our defensive line and our linebackers, where we return six out of the eight positions, I think that will be a strongpoint for us,” Cobb emphasized.
Joining returning starter Maples on the corners will be junior Austin Cutliff (5-9, 145). Cobb said one safety will be rotated in between Daniel McClain and Burke. Neither started last season.
“Defense was a our strongpoint last year,” West Vigo’s coach assessed. “It kept us in a lot of games. I think it will continue to be a strongpoint, if we keep working for these first couple weeks of the season.”
One of the Vikings’ early-season games will be Sept. 14 against non-conference foe Linton inside Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium.
“That will be a great time,” Cobb noted. “It’s something those kids will never forget.”
As for repeating as a WIC champion, he acknowledged it will be difficult but not impossible.
“I think Sullivan is the odds-on favorite,” Cobb said. “They return almost everybody from last year’s team. I look for them to be the leaders, among other teams, including us. … I think if we get our young kids the experience that’s needed, when we get to conference play, we could have a very good team.”
West Vigo schedule
Friday — At Evansville Harrison, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 30 — At Greencastle, 7 p.m.
Sept. 6 — Brown County*, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 — vs. Linton in Lucas Oil Stadium, 8 p.m.
Sept. 20 — South Vermillion*, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 — At Edgewood*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4 — Owen Valley*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 — At Northview*, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 — At Sullivan*, 7 p.m.
* — Western Indiana Conference games