2018 Gridiron: Beardstown Tigers
Colors: Orange and Black
Total Returning Lettermen: 12
2017 Overall Record: 7-3
Head Coach: Robbi Howard
Years at School: 2
Record at School: 12-8
Overall Record: 12-8
IF YOU THROW YOU GO: TIGERS MIX OF SPEED, POWER BEGUILESPROVIDED A TRIGGER MAN EMERGES
WHEN LAST WE LEFT BEARDSTOWN: The Tigers were giving heavily favored Bloomington Central Catholic all it could handle on its home turf in the first round of the 3A Playoffs; a game that proved as exhilarating and entertaining offensively as any we witnessed in 2017. Granted, the Saints may have been more than a little over-valued in the IHSA seed process as a “soft” 9-2 squad that would get annihilated by Williamsville (ironic, given the Robbi Howard history there) a week later. Still, viewed through our own self-serving prism, it was also proof that the resurrected Tiger program was legit; that Beardstown belonged on this stage and that the seeds of “rebuild” that Coach Howard has sewn were pushing momentum in the right direction. One does not simply stride into BCC as a relative “no one” on the state stage and drop 31 points on a Saints team that looked absolutely powerless to stop Beardstown’s wonderful mix of power run game and edge burst in any way. If anyone needed assurance that the trajectory of this very positive storyline over the last two years was legit, look no further than this moral victory.
THAT WHICH REMAINS: The Tigers will bring back a dozen lettermen and five starters on each side of the football from last year’s 7-3 squad. Moreover, Robbi Howard enters this season with a nucleus of proven offensive lynchpins intact that were critical in elevating the Tigers into an explosive 34.9 points per contest producer in 2017. There’s a lot of potential firepower in play here, perhaps as much as you will find on any Small School Team in Western Illinois. And having the ability to employ elite breakaway threats like Pascal Guilavogui and D.J. McWilliams simultaneously coupled with bruising Fullback Chad Grimm certainly puts a rose-color sheen on this thing going into the season. In theory, that alone should make Beardstown a fun ticket and a program with great preseason buzz. But I would caution you those are the only guarantees here; that while there is a veneer of explosive “curb appeal” here, the Tigers are left with a lot of critical “structural integrity” questions that must be answered to translate potential and “fun factor” into tangible success. This team graduated critical pieces of arguably the best Linebacking corps in the Tri-States (Drake Wrobleski and Brady O’Hara leave massive shoes to fill on Defense) as well as a handful or unsung Offensive and Defensive Linemen who quietly lent true gravitas to the legitimization of Beardstown as a Playoff Team while their skill position breathren were soaking up all the glory. Ohand lest I ignore the other obvious elephant standing in the middle of the room here..
ANSWERING A RIDDLE: .That the Tigers just graduated a four-year starter at Quarterback who had seen it all in his wide-ranging career in Ike Riddle. From shell-shocked Freshman on a winless team to unsung Senior cornerstone with back-to-back postseason appearances to his credit, Riddle carved a niche and his accrued toughness and savvy moving forward served as a kind of tangible metaphor for Beardstown’s rise as a whole. He didn’t get enough credit for it but Ike also honed himself into an effective offensive counter-measure as a passer late in his career, helping balance the Tiger offense to the tune of nearly 100 yards passing per game. Sophomore Tristan Gann would appear to be the heir apparent, a 6’1” 180 pounder who certainly looks the role. But we don’t know a whole lot yet about the kid as a Varsity Football player other than that he posted five tackles as a Frosh in varsity play, rushed the football twice for seven yards, and did not produce a single one of the Tigers 101 passing attempts a season ago. If we have learned anything about Coach Howard’s coaching acumen in the last three years, it is that he does a great job putting kids in position to succeed. Riddle’s instant ascent upon Robbi’s hire is evidence of that and I would suspect that there is a clear path for Gann moving forward into this season as well. I would also point out, from a safety net standpoint, that the Tigers have used Pascal Guilavogui as a Wildcat option in the past and his 14.9 yards per carry average a year ago would certainly command the attention of Tiger Opponents if that is where he finds himself stationed within different schemes during the course of a game. (Fun side note: Pascal was 2 for 2 passing a year ago on trick plays for 22 yards as well) Still, Gann’s own development is an important x-factor here, especially given the receiving talent in play with Guilavogui (254 receiving yards, 4 TD in 2017) McWilliams (19 catches, 185 yards, 2 TD last season) and terrifically underrated Tight End Bill Cramblitt (8 receptions, 276 yards, 5 TD) all present and accounted for here to stretch the field and thin the defensive box to the cause of Beardstown’s bread and butter ground game.
A GRIMM PROGNOSIS: I think it is telling of Beardstown’s profile that despite the graduation losses of both Brady O’Hara and Drake Wrobleski (1571 combined rushing yards and 21 touchdowns between them last Fall) that running back is still a considered roster strength moving into 2018. I am not sure you will find a more explosive or versatile Wingback than Guilavogui anywhere in our region and I would surmise he significantly involves himself in the running game more than the the 34 carries he generated a year ago. He’s a mesmerizing athlete with uncommon burst, slashing ability, and unmatched explosiveness in our region. I’d like to see him finish off his runs more violently, because he certainly has the body-type to do so and maybe that’s the next evolution of his already terrific high school career. He will be supported here by emerging Senior Garrett Brannan as well, who didn’t see the football much in the Tigers logjam a year ago but who did produce a seven-yards-per-carry average in his cameo work. The Power Component on the run game rides on High School Wrestling phenom Chad Grimm, who reminds me a ton of former Macomb dual-sport Mat/Grid All Star Curt Myers. Actually, I think Grimm has a chance to be the better Fullback of the two as his 81 carry, 568 yard 4 touchdown Junior Year conjures appropriate reference to his fearless, punishing running style. Great body lean and profile, powerful legs, and a nasy disposition sets this kid up to be something special. He projects into the Drake Wrobleksi-lead ball-carrier role this season and that means potentially 120 or more carries in 2018. He’s going to the take the starch out of a lot of folks over four quarters nightly.
QUESTIONS THAT REQUIRE ANSWERS: Beyond Adam Kirchner, who really stepped up at Guard last season, and stout Senior Center Fernando Gomez, the Tiger Offensive Line is a rebuilt. When you consider that the B-Town Body Guards helped amass some 317 ground yards per game a year ago, that’s legit cause for concern. Much of the season here will hinge on the ascent of promsing youngsters like Braden Oest (6’2” 270lbs) and Dylan Lyles (5’10” 230lbs) to pick up that lost slack in the trenches.
Outside of Lucas Shelby, there is not a single truly experienced Defensive Lineman back either. Shelby is a goodly sized dude at 265 pounds who showed nice chase down ability and some pocket collapsing skill (3.5 sacks as a Junior is no small affair) but that’s all we know going into the campaign about the all-important Defensive Front on a team that has had well-advertised struggles stopping the run in the recent past.
You don’t lose Linebackers the caliber of Wrobleski, O’Hara, and Drane without taking a hit. That said, Chad Grimm and Clint Cooper seem poised to ascend and take advantage of the larger window of work without having tackle opportunities vulture away by a pair of the state’s best. I have higher confidence here than I do about the Beardstown D-Line, but the development of a Brady O’Hara-styled Rainmaker here would be a nifty development
THE BREAKOUT GUY: I love me some D.J. McWilliams. He tends to get overlooked it in the skill position shuffle at Beardstown but don’t forget who it was the Tigers turned to in their most critical moment in the season opener against Brown County when they absolutely had to have a play at the end of a game. That proved his clutch gene. McWilliams is a nightmare to try and check as Wide Receiver and seems to have an instinct for finding space and then making the most of it when he gets there. The Tigers absolutely have to find a way to get the ball in his hands more often, especially now that so much attention figures to be paid Guilavogui and Grimm. I’d argue that he might also be the best Defensive Back in the most complete Secondary in our area as well. DJ had three interceptions a year ago, which I suspect gets him avoided like the plague in opposing passing games next season. He has a chance to be an elite two way player in our region as Senior.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: The Tigers have the best front line talent in the WIVC North. The question however, is do they have enough of it beyond their established “star” guys to compete with and beat a Camp Point Central, which boasts a much deeper and more proven roster on paper as of this writing. Minimally, I think the Tigers are the second best team in the WIVC North. They’ve got a transformational offensive talent (and maybe the best Special Teams weapon in decades as a potential All State Kicker and Return Guy) in Pascal Guilavogui who is going to give every defense night terror level fits every Friday. He’s small school Jirehl Brock, for lack of a better description here. And they boast star level skill position players around him. It’s the fill-in-the-blanks portion of the equation that determines how much better than say 7-2 Beardstown can be beyond that. This staff has been sensational in the player development aspect of things to this point. They will have to deliver an even better effort in that department this year spinning their continued progress to that next echelon; the one where the Tigers are posting unbeaten seasons and Conference Championships and Playoff wins. To that end, the easy indicator here will be early season Line Play, on both sides of the ball. How the Tigers profile up front against both Pleasant Hill and Carrollton to open the year will set the template of their potential. If we see those question mark spots yielding positive benefit early, Beardstown could well ignite like a forest fire. If the trench play and tackling is spotty or inconsistent early, that tips the scale in a much more negative direction. There’s a ton of high end Boom potential. But also a chance this thing could bust a bit relative to soaring expectations. From what I’ve seen to this point, without all the answers in advance, I think betting against Howard, his staff, and the tangible moment is a fool’s errand. I will take Beardstown 8-1 in the regular season and depending upon the draw, finally breaking through with a postseason win. The floor here is pretty high. At worst, Beardstown is a top twelve team in the area. If all goes right, they could be a top three.