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Projected Team Strengths: Quarterback Play, Underclass Talent, Wes Mefford, Class 1 Size Differential

Projected Question Marks: Linebacker, Depth


MOST UNDERRATED SKIPPER IN THE BUSINESS: He is the reigning KHQA Football Coach of the Year and pretty highly respected by his peers. Yet it strikes me as increasingly befuddling that Rob Wilt really doesn't seem to get his due as one of the elite skippers in our area. Maybe its sharing conference space with a living legend in Erle Bennett. Maybe it's the fact that Rob doesn't run a flashy space age system or isn't a particularly colorful personality. The guy is just blue collar good and that tends to blur for some people. Honestly, I am not sure anyone gets more consistently from the hand he is dealt than Wilt. Granted, maybe I am luckier than most in that I got the chance to work go behind the curtain for a whole week during the Do or Die Bowl two years ago and got to watch Rob work. Two things struck me. He sees everything. And he sees it faster and better, on both sides of the ball, than 85% of the coaches I have ever been around. And secondly, Wilt has a Par Pitts-like ability to turn the tempo of an entire practice around almost on sheer force of will. He did so on Monday. His team lost focus. He stopped practice and did 20 minutes of Seven Man Sled and salvaged the entire session. Rob is a force of will type guy. He may not seem it from the outside, but he can light up a morning practice session with the same kind of volatility that admire in Bill Connell. He's just flat good. He's assembled a sharp staff (one made better by the defection of Curt Bowen back home from Macon, a tremendous get) and his system is solid from the lower levels up. A school the size of South Shelby is lucky to have the guy. There's a reason that Cardinal Football did not go off the rails last season, amidst a rash of injuries and an uncommon cold start. There's also a reason that South found itself not only veering away from disaster but Domeward Bound. That reason is Rob Wilt.

HEATH FEST: David Heathman already has one State Title game appearance to his credit in his first season as a Starting Quarterback. I'd say that's a pretty impressive start to the resume. Heathman is an absolutely unflappable kid with very good read/recognition skills. He cites work in a couple of off-season camps as raising his level of overall confidence this season and thusly, the level of confidence the coaching staff has in his passing abilities has grown. The Cardinals anticipate putting the ball into the air with greater frequency this season and Heathman does a very good job with his accuracy, particularly when pressured. He's one of those kids whose pulse rate just never seems to quicken. That's a nice luxury to have when you have to face the kind of Defensive monsters who are lurking in the CCC.

THE QUESTION MARK AT RUNNING BACK: Not nearly as pronounced as you may think, post Shawn Bertrand and Austin Hall. Rob Wilt admits it will be more of a by-committee approach with speedster Trace Windsor rejoining the now-healthy Alex Blackford at Tailback and Andrew Teel reprising his role at fullback. As a group, this is a very quick (particularly Teel for his position) and versatile arsenal. We did not write much about Blackford preseason in our Gridiron Playbook largely because he was shelved so much last season and I didn't know until this week what his injury status would be. The kid is just fine. Love Blackford's versatility. He's a slasher who can just as easily go into motion and destroy coverage schemes catching passes out of the backfield. On paper, Running Back may look like a question mark. In application, South is really good there.

TOUGH CUSTOMERS: I like Riley Schmitz a great deal as a guard. He is a relentless worker. He works hard in the weight room. And subjectively, I think the kid is one of the more fluid guards you will see pulling out in front of a trap. He also does a great job delivering a blow on every play. He had two demolition pancakes on Defenders during 11-on-11 Monday and that was in shells. Put him in pads, sit back, and enjoy the highlights. Adam Ellyson is a kid here who deserves some love. He made 60 tackles in the Defensive Backfield and made a pair of nice catches on Monday. Adam wears a glass eye, due to an accident with a BB gun, long ago and I am not sure if this is an Urban Shelbina legend or not yet, but a source (who I am bound by journalistic practice not to reveal, so let's just call him "Tiny" for these purposes) tells me Ellyson hit a kid so hard last season, his prostetic eye dislodged. Unfortunately, Adam did not have enough time to put it back in, so he played the next play holding the glass eye in his hand. How do you not love a kid like that?

PLAYER OF GRAVITY: Wes Mefford. Hard to argue with an All Stater and Wes Mefford is this years version of Austin Gooding. The undersized Defensive star who puts up obscene numbers through work rate, tenacity, and unrivaled motor. Yeah, I know, Wes is better know for his Tight End skills and I will grant you he is legit there (19.5 yards per catch) but I love what this kid brings to Cardinal Defense that needs some "hang your hat" guys here. He had 104 stops from the Defensive End spot and 14 tackles for loss a year ago and I think he was only scratching the surface. I almost wish Defensive Coordinator Zach Grassley would move him to linebacker and turn him completely loose, because we might be looking at a 190 tackle campaign. He's just one of those kids who has incredible passion, a high football IQ, and never gets tired. Mefford would be a star for any program in our area, on sheer heart alone.


SLEEPER TO WATCH: Andrew Teel. Hard nosed fullback who has top end tailback speed. While Trace Windsor and a healthy Alex Blackford figure to garner the lion's share of defensive attention this season within the Cardinal rebuilt running game, I can see Teel stealing some of their thunder. He hits the hole with gusto and I love the way he finishes his runs. He's not big but he plays physically. And he's versatile enough to swing to the Tailback spot. Plus I got a soft spot for any back who loves to block. Don't be surprised if Teel posts Henry Walker type numbers here. He's got that kind of pop in his game, but with more speed.


PROSPECT TO WATCH: Bryce Fifer. Citing those three stellar Sophomore Offensive Linemen (Hadley Roberts, Ryan Larrick, and Matt Mueller) would be to easy. Fifer is a Sophomore who might play his way into some linebacker reps very early in his career. To be honest, the kid looks nothing at all like an underclassmen in terms of body type. He's a 220 pound middle linebacker cut straight out of Central Casting who is already drawing some comparisons internally to former record setting Cardinal MLB Bryce Johnston. That's very high praise. By the way, between these stellar sophomores and a great incoming group of Freshman who weren't challenged in eight grade, South has one of the brightest futures of any program in our area. Just have to survive kind of a thin Junior class next fall.