KHQA BARNSTORM CAMP NOTES
ILLINI WEST CHARGERS
Projected Team Strengths: Senior Leadership, Depth, Team Speed, Linebacker Play, Braxton Squier
Projected Question Marks: Psyche, Experience
HIDDEN SPRINGBOARD: It's very easy to be dismissive of the Chargers 2011 campaign because, quite bluntly, it didn't end up in a State Championship trophy and that is largely what we've become accustomed to from IW Football. Say what you want about the overall finish and level of "disappointment" it created, that team deserves a lot of credit for reversing the course of their own fortunes on the fly and fighting their way back from a 1-3 start to make the playoffs. Tim Lafferty thinks there is positive momentum still being reaped from that "reversal of fortunes" and that it fueled what he described as an "excellent offseason" by his kids.
BY A NOSE: Perhaps overlooked in the aftermath of last season was the performance Nose Guard Braxton Squier, who jumped in to varsity football as a Sophomore and became the Casey Hampton of the Chargers Interior Three. The 225 pounder posted 45 total tackles on the season and less glamourously, gave the Chargers a player up front who could pick off Offensive Linemen and allow the Chargers talented but undersized Linebackers to buzz around and snap up tackles. Tim Lafferty likes to say this year's Charger Team is one that is good in a lot of places, but without one real "wow" you type unit. That may change, however, as this Defensive Line continues to develop. Alex Appel, though better known for his offensive potential, is back as one of those speedy, undersized ends the Chargers seem to really like. ( It's probably more accuarte to call them extra linebackers but Lyle Klein has two rings and I have none, so I am not arguing) Appel had 31 tackles last season and is a physical and smart kid. There is depth here and much of it is made up of Seniors. Should some of those guys (Andrew McGhghy, Payton Ryner, Devin Lionberger, Gage Blake, Alec McCarty Andrew Brackenbury et al) make the leap for Line Coach Rusty Willey, Illini West may not only have a top notch Starting Five here, but an actual rotation of fresh players to throw in waves at opponents. Reading between the lines with a couple of my Illini West sources here, this might also precipitate some "two-platoon" football which would give IW a huge advantage dealing with physical teams like Macomb (Week Two)
CONVERSION: Probably a very savvy move by the IW Coaching Staff to move Kaleb Spikermeier from Tight End to Offensive Tackle this season, where he and Kale Calisle infuse a nice dimension of size and mobility to an offensive line that has long thrived on technique and tenacity over overwhelming size. Kaleb has clearly paid the price in the off-season workout program and he tells me that he thinks this particular group of IW Bodyguards is very reminiscent of the one that the Chargers used to win the 2010 State Championship. Again, another group that may be operating a little below radar but is worth keeping tabs on.
TOTING THE ROCK: Could not get much of a read on what the ultimate composition of the Charger Backfield will be based on the early nature of the workouts, beyond the fact that Alex Appel (226 rushing yards, 6.3 yards per carry, 4 TD in 2011) is in line for an increase in workload. There's a lot to like here, particularly in the fact that Alex has the frame and durability to be a workhorse, 20 carry a night type back if need be. His teammates are all quick to point how how strong a finisher he is against would be tacklers and the video I found of him in our archives bore this out. If you are looking for a good red zone threat/TD vulture in your Tri State Football Fantasy League, Alex would make a solid draft choice.
PLAYER OF GRAVITY: Ben Gittings. Chargers return their top tackler from 2011 in Gittings, a first team All Conference honoree who makes up for what he lacks in prototype size with smart play and quick pursuit. Gittings posted 99 total tackles last season and along with fellow returnee Clay Huston and physical senior Kale Carlisle gives Defensive Coordinator Lyle Klein a very bankable group of run stoppers with which to scheme.
SLEEPER TO WATCH: Brody Gronewold. By default, he earns this distinction. The outstanding Charger Basketball player hasn't played organized football since his Freshman season. Now he appears to be the front runner over Sophomore Braden Bennett to inherit the Quarterback position here. Hard to tell much running against air (and Tim Lafferty's trademark trashcan defense) but he certainly has the requisite speed to viewed as a serious "tuck it and run threat" on order with some of the very good ones that have come through this conjoined program (Joe Reed, Jensen Jones, Michael Lafferty) As far as throwing the football goes, I only saw him do some long toss warm-ups in practice, so I can't speak to that personally. I know Tim Lafferty was very complimentary, however, of the 7-on-7 work both Gronewold and Bennett turned in on the Summer Circuit.