2018 Gridiron: Brown County Hornets
Colors: Kelly green and white
2017 Overall Record: 8-3
Head Coach: Tom Little
Years at School: 16
Overall Record: 112-57
REISCHE TABLE: HORNETS SEEK TO SILENCE THEIR DOUBTERS
BUZZ FEED: On balance, the 2017 campaign was a mostly satisfying affair for the Brown County Hornets. Tom Little’s crew roared out of the gate with six straight wins, including an overtime thriller against highly regarded Beardstown. And then the swoon hit. The Hornets dropped ugly losses to Camp Point, the Pleasant Hill/Western and finished their limp down the stretch drive with a 48-34 win a North Greene that felt almost as nasty as the two prior defeats, given the extent of BC’s Defense collapse against a subpar foe. Given the spate of ugly play, it was fair at the time to wonder if the Hornets impending Playoff Appearance (the 15th in school history) might result in a very quick ouster and another black eye defeat/further humiliation for a program that looked like a State Powerhouse just a month earlier. To its credit, however, the Brown County staff coaxed arguably the best performance of the season from their kids in a 42-28 playoff road win at Arcola. A week later, the run was over; at the hands of future Class 1A State Runner Up Tuscola. Final mark: 8-3. A good solid B+ of a season in Brown County for a talented crew of Hornets, who as a collective possessed (and battled) a somewhat fragile psyche. In the end then, being able to overcome that reputation and rising from the mists of adversity was a fitting final statement and chapter from a tremendously accomplished Class of Graduates. Here’s hoping that group bequeathed their “Week Ten Chip” in their Senior Wills to their Hornet Successors to wear on their shoulders into 2018; because they too will the subject of doubt and disbelief from the outside; perhaps even to a greater extent than The Class of 2017. Since last November, I’ve heard more than a few typically reliable WIVC Bird Dogs suggest Brown County is primed for a precipitous tumble from the top of the North Standings. The rationale being that everybody else in the Division seemingly got better; while BC took as seismic a Graduation hit as any team in West Central Illinois. Idle chit-chat or legitimate concern? Or Just one more opportunity for Tom Little to work his coaching wizardry? Let us explore.
NEXT MAN UP IN THE NEST: On balance, the Hornets lose a dozen starters to graduation. More than that, Tom Little bids goodbye to the most prolific passer in school history as well as the Career Leader in Rushing Touchdowns, an All-Conference Offensive Linemen, the top Tight End in Tri-State Football as well as the leading tackler/spiritual leader of his team. We are talking a gigantic amount of statistical production and an even bigger chunk of the Hornets overall identity and leadership. The Hornets do return ten starters and twenty lettermen from 2017 with which to retool, which is a savvy bit of advanced player development by the BC staff, which saw this handwriting on the wall. By the same token, nowhere on the roster yet is there a single individual performer who reached the heights of even Junior Year versions of Joe Hendricker, Devin Tynan, Darian Drake and Tanner Sussenbach. Replacing just one of those guys would be worrisome. Replacing every last one of them simultaneously is the kind of stuff that tends to make other people’s scalps resemble my own. Tom Little’s best recourse here is simply to play the hand he has and bank on collective contributions within the team framework closes the margins and gets the Hornets to their goals, even in the absence of proven stars and rain makers. Let this BC team be the best version of itself with its own strengths, rather than trying to replicate someone else’s previous template. Identifying and cultivating those specific outliers this season is balance point on which 2018 success teeters.
BLAESING SADDLES: So long as Alex Ebbing and Heath Fullerton are on staff serving as stewards, Offensive Line play will be a point of Pride for Brown County Football. The BC Trench Gurus will get to build from a pool of talent that includes three seasoned blockers, not to mention a pretty darned promising Tight End candidate to boot. Lane Herald, a 260 pound Senior with both functional strength and plenty of dexterity for his size, is the Alpha here. Classmate Logan Blaesing (5’11” 185lbs) is cut more from the old school, speed guard Wing-T look of Tom Little’s Carthage upbringing. Junior Dylan Roberts (5’11” 220lbs) nicely splits the difference. Finding residents for the other two spots on the Line here is imperative. Varsity veteran Chase McClellland(6’ 230lbs) will head up the line of candidates trying to join this Brotherhood of Blockers. Sophomore Holton Burnett is waiting in the wings as are newcomers Darius Yakle, Rylee Rohn and Clayton Schenk. Lanny Sussenbach is the Tight End-no-longer in waiting to supplant his brother Tanner. Lucas Kunkel and Mason Markert presence here makes the Class of 2021 a promising one for Tight End Talent as well.
BUSS STOP FORECAST: The 2017 Brown County Hornets put the football into the air 138 times last Fall, which feels like unprecedented territory for Wing-T devotee Tom Little. But Joe Hendricker’s arm was a weapon that demanded reps and to his credit, the BC Skipper adapted the offense around his veteran gunslinger. In the end, Hendricker was credited with 137 of those team throws. The other went to Mason Buss, who completed his only strike for six yards. So I suppose the “Fake News” headline I’m aiming for here is “Brown County jettisons flawed veteran Signal Caller for replacement with perfect QBR.” Fun with fact finessing aside, filling Joe Hendricker’s sizeable shoes is going to be a Herculean task for Mason or Kody McKeon, Caleb Farve or whoever wins the job. Farve (anyone else bemused at the potential for Packers Fanatic Tom Little to employ a QB with said surname)is the biggest and youngest candidate in the mix as a 6’ Sophomore. Buss and McKeon (both 5’10” 160lbs) are Juniors. I know in talking to Little last season, he thought Caleb Farve had incredible long rang ceiling, but wasn’t sure if he would be as user ready as a 10th Grader as his counterparts. However this battle plays out, it could scramble some of the other positional possibilities around the offense, so it certainly merits watching even if BC isn’t likely to throw the ball nearly as much this season.
RUN IT BACK: With a new Quarterback at the tiller, the Hornet Wing-T is likely to find the Defensive Box packed in against the run from snap one of the season. Under ordinary circumstances, that would make for some tough sledding. When you consider that BC bid good bye to 75% of his yardage production from a season ago, that makes the prospect of establishing the run an even trickier one. Still, this challenge is nothing new for members of the Jim Unruh Coaching tree, who have kept the Wing-T viable and uber-productive in the Spread/RPO Age of Football Enlightenment. Only the names change, not the approach. With Devin Tynan and Darian Drake in college on opposite sides of Jacksonville, Illinois, Gavin Lancaster and Cameron Zimmerman step forward. In a cameo role last Fall, Lancaster (6’ 180lbs) rushed 56 times for 227 yards and four touchdowns. Zimmerman, meanwhile, took advantage of some spot duty at Wingback to really turn heads with a 11.8 yards per gain average in route to 235 yards a pair of scores. Wyatt Fink (22 carries, 76 yards) may well be the answer at the all-important Fullback slot in this Offense. Outstanding Defensive Back Bryce Bergman (16 carries, 58 yards; 3 catches 16 yards) also could factor here at the top of the roster tree, depending on how the BC staff wishes to attack and who has the freshest legs. The deep well of guys looking to steal carries from the more established names are Max McFadden, Seth Fisher, Westyn Herrin, Gavin Miller, Cristian Luparell, Collin Boyle and Bryar Lenover among others.
A GATHERING SWARM: The Brown County Defense surrendered just 82 total points over the first six games of the 2017 Season. Conversely, the Hornets were tagged for 174 points over their five game finishing stretch, a skid precipitated by a 28-7 loss at Camp Point Central. Prior to that contest, Panther Coach Brad Dixon intimated that there exploitable weaknesses with the then undefeated Hornets Defensive construct that no one had attempted to take advantage of to that point. Once Dixon’s crew exposed them, every subsequent BC foe followed the Panthers blueprint to the tune of almost 35 points per game. If there is a silver lining to that development, it is that the Hornets now have a better read on themselves and how to finer tune their approach. Moreover, Coordinator Jared Hoots has some terrific pieces to deploy here in quest to improve the overall product.
THE HORNETS COMPANY: Defensive Line play should be the standard bearer here. Second Team All-WIVC North pick Garet VanHyning is back to spearhead the assault on opposing Offensive Lines. He is, essentially an extra Outside Linebacker disguised as a down lineman. VanHyning is incredibly reactive and quick to the ball and has a rare talent at 175 pounds for separating himself from bigger blockers. His 42 tackles and six stops for loss evidence of just how well he scrapes through all the traffic to get where he needs to be. Lane Herald supplies need force and size up front here but is still a very high motor player in his own right. He bagged 46 tackles a year ago and made four takedowns behind the line of scrimmage. Holton Burnett is again, a young man who shows enormous promise and could be a factor here. I would think Lanny Sussenbach would have rangy value to this unit as well as either a Defensive End or Outside Linebacker type. The Hornets can also go bigger at Tackle if need be with a Chase McClelland or Dylan Roberts. There’s really nice rotational potential here.
We project Sophomore Lars Reische as Brown County’s next huge Defensive Star. His Freshman performance high spots were dazzling; a collection of “who the heck is that kid moments” that showcased his unreal explosion to the football and pad shaking hits. The 220 pounder had 66 total varsity tackles as a 9th Grader and finished second on the team in stops for loss with 15 a year ago. He’s only going to be stronger and savvier this season. The kid has monster potential. Fellow Sophomore Chance Fuqua is no slouch either. He posted 30 tackles and eight stops for loss in his Varsity debut and again, really looks the part at 215lbs. The Hornets can fuse a little speed to all that physicality as well. Gavin Lancaster looks like a really nice find at Outside Linebacker as well. He had 21 tackles in a bit role last year, but also delivered a scoop and score touchdown along the way. The future of the Hornet Linebacking position appears locked down nicely for years to come.
Brown County’s Secondary is a work in progress beyond Bryce Bergman. The Senior Corner snared a pair of interceptions a year ago and averaged better than 30 yards a return on those takeaways. He also grabbed three fumbles, which demonstrates the kid’s terrific sense of awareness on the field. He’s always around the football and very opportunistic. He projects as a stronger tackler as a Senior as well. As with the Running Back scenarios, Jared Hoots will have a wealth of guys to throw at the other vacancies in his Defensive Backfield, trying to find the three to four man combination that meshes best. As of this writing, the thing is wide open.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: Now that we’ve laid out the assets here for you, do we feel like we know who this Brown County team is relative to its competition? Honestly, I am not sure I do or will until we get into the season. I feel pretty comfortable telling you Central is the favorite in the North. Triopia and Beardstown are legitimate threats; but also teams that have to prove they can get out of their own way in meaningful games. Unity/Payson is a Tier Three player here that could give any of these teams a surprise “L” on a given Friday or get stunningly upset by a Routt or West Central the week following. And Routt should be better but is also a year of system building away. The Hornets? I think we have some vague gauge of what their high and low end could be. What they actually deliver, with so many new pieces and so little proven leadership? Man that’s a tough hill to have to die on either way. My mind says never to be against Tom Little and his career 66% win clip. But heads-up, there’s not a lot of match-ups here where I look at Brown County and say that I prefer the Hornets over Brand X, at least in a vacuum. I could see a path to six wins if I squint real hard and assume every single swing factor goes BC’s way. But that’s a lot of proving this squad has to do between now and August 24th. Not to me or the folks around the WIVC projecting Brown County as 3-4 win team; but most importantly to themselves. I guess we will know soon enough. Not sure there is a team on my list with a more salient opening night contest than these guys. Heck, maybe that trip to Winchester isn’t even a game at this point as much it is a public declaration of identity. Number me among those who waited with baited breath to curiously find out here what the definite answer will be.