2018 Gridiron: Bushnell West Prairie Sparclones
Colors: Black and blue
Total Returning Lettermen: 13
2017 Overall Record: 7-3
Head Coach: David Roddis
Years at School: 4
Record at School: 14-15
JAXIMUM OVERDRIVE: SPARCLONES SEEK TO BUILD ON WATERSHED 2017 CAMPAIGN
IN THE SPIRIT OF COOPERATION: On the strength of a second straight playoff appearance and seven win campaign, Bushnell/West Prairie further cemented its status as one of the truly ascendant programs in Tri-State High School Football. That’s no small miracle, given the dire straits both BPC and West Prairie found themselves in as individual gridiron entities just five years ago. The fusing of this Football Union, however, has proven a tremendous boon for both communities and fan bases; started under the stewardship of Roy Gully and now so deftly extended over the last three years by David Roddis and his staff. For comparison’s sake: Roddis has amassed 14 total victories with the Sparclones in just three seasons. In the seven years leading up to the co-op, the West Prairie Cyclones had but a dozen total wins. This isn’t just growth, kids. It is growth “together” and the shared culture of Sparclone Football is a credit to the level of buy-in the stewards of BWP Football have been able to coax not just from their kids, but rival communities. From gridiron graveyard to victory garden. And we are barely four years into the experiment. Not that anyone associated with BWP Football is patting themselves on the back. The Sparclone Coaching Staff is pushing for yet another evolution this Fall; trying to get their kids to leap forward from respectability to dominance. That mandates a new level of goal setting; recalibrating the sites to target grander achievements like a Prairieland Blue Title and the co-op’s first ever postseason victory (victories.) It is an admittedly bigger bite. But what fun is establishing this kind of traction if you don’t take that momentum out for a spin?
THE WALK: For David Roddis, the Summer Slate will be a high tension tightrope act between established assets and rapid fire player development of pressed-into-service underclassmen. On one hand, the Sparclones will boast an impressive core nucleus of 13 returning Varsity lettermen and eleven starters with legitimate playoff snaps on their resumes. That’s a fine bit of football infrastructure to be sure; but lest anyone forget: graduation punched considerable holes in the overall construct that have to be competently filled, lest the whole equation erode. Stated more directly: this appears to be a team with an impressive façade of Skill Position Weapons on Offense and Back of the Unit Defense difference makers. At issue is whether or not the Sparclones have the kind of “rebar” in the trenches on either side of the ball to hold the program in winning form.
CAGE TO RATTLE: Offensively, BWP returns starting Quarterback Charlie Hensley, a pair of seasoned running backs, and two good looking Tight End prospects from an Offense that averaged better than 30 points per game a season ago. From a confidence standpoint, this collection of weaponry should allow David Roddis to open up the playbook considerably and project an effective run/pass balance. Hensley’s emergence last Summer was huge in that regard. He seized the QB spot from holdover starter Devin Yocum and demonstrated poise running the offense, the ability to extend plays with his feet, and an unorthodox but effective lefty delivery. It might not always be a thing of beauty but Charlie hits his spots as a passer and gives his Receivers opportunities to make plays. He will be a year stronger and more polished, which certainly heightens the expectation level for him. While he loses his top receiver in Yocum, Hensely will have a pair of super tough targets at Tight End in Senior JC Miller and Junior Jax Hiel; not to mention his younger Brother Will as a potentially explosive athlete in the mix at Wide Receiver. The Sparclone Run Game graduates lynchpin Nate Ferguson, but should prove plenty potent with Tyler Donaldson and Wes Rhoads waiting in the wings. Donaldson is essentially a Wing Back playing Fullback, but his speed, versatility, and surprising strength at 5’6” and 165 pounds served him well in the role last season. He’s got big play pop as a runner; even tagged Elmwood/Brimfield’s Defense with a 55 yard dagger of a touchdown right through the heart of that unit. Tyler is tough to tackle and off contact, seems to have natural bounce to daylight. He’s also a very viable receiving threat with incredible hands (had at least three one-handed snares I saw last season) that should serve Hensley well in play action. Rhoads is a 6’1” 180 pound Senior who rushed for 133 yards on just 16 carries in a big win over United last Fall; so he clearly can handle feature back touches. The Sparclones will look to replace Ferguson with some combination of Sophomores Josh Ragle and Johnnie Dean and Junior Cole Chambers in their three back sets. Overall, there’s some depth and enough talent to keep defenses from honing in on any one player.
THE ’CLONE WARS: Expect a spirited battle this Summer in Camp amongst the Offensive Linemen as BWP tries to cultivate three new starters on a short clock. And make no mistake about it, there will be huge shoes to fill here in all three cases. The Right Side of the Sparclone Line with Alex Taylor and John Hiel was arguably the 2017 squads biggest single Offensive Strength. The rebuild will start with star Linebacker Carter Weaver, who brings great quickness and tenacity to the mix to offset his 185 pound frame at Guard. Jace McNance is a versatile 190 pounder at Guard who can also get out ahead of the Running Backs and make things happen. Largely, though, the success of the BWP Line hinges on Junior Tackles Kolbe Suter and Mike Rusher, along with Sophomore Center Matt Sinnett developing into quality Varsity Blockers from Week One on. BWP has done a quietly excellent job cultivating quality Linemen over the last three years. These guys have to keep that tradition alive or BWP’s Offense gets stuck in neutral in hurry, no matter how dazzling the array of prospects is it that lines up behind them.
NIGHTMARE WEAVER: Defensively, the Sparclones return a half dozen starters from a unit that gave up 19 points per game. The highlight here is a Linebacker Group that we rank among the Top Five anywhere in Tri-State Football. Carter Weaver headlines the group on the strength of a Junior Campaign that saw him deliver 93 total tackles. For no bigger than he is, Carter casts a long shadow on the game. His big play skills netted four stops for loss, a pair of Quarterback Sacks and an interception. BWP runs essentially a gap attacking defensive system and Carter’s ability to meet contact in the hole makes him an ideal fit. But the charms here don’t end with Mister Weaver. JC Miller produced 55 tackles, 2 stops for loss, and a pair of fumble recoveries in his Junior Year. Junior Jax Hiel is a gifted Junior Inside Backer who is only scratching the surface of his enormous run/hit potential. He’s a young man, who as he continues to get stronger, has a change to be one of the elite run stoppers in our region because he already comes to the table with sublime instincts, demonstrable ability to slip blocking, and a zeal for contact. He and Tyler Donaldson offer considerable range/speed fun on the inside. I suspect that Wes Rhoads is due for another elevation of play at Outside Linebacker as well. The potential of youngsters Johnnie Dean, Josh Ragle, and Cole Chambers only broaden the canvas here. Again, these guys won’t impress anybody walking out of the Locker Room, but for my money, BWP is as deep and fast at Linebacker as any team in our area not named Monroe City or Camp Point Central. And that’s pretty high praise.
Beyond just an outlier group of Linebackers, the BWP Defense can also claim strength in the Secondary. Charlie Hensley returns at Free Safety after a Junior Year that saw him grab three interceptions and bag 44 tackles. Will Hensley will also likely draw staters reps in the Secondary, where again, his athleticism should help tilt the field some right from the jump.
THE REST OF THE STORY: I have the same concerns about BWP Defensively as I do on Offense. The Quality of Line Play the Sparclones can expect in 2018 is a huge variable, with Jace McCance as the only remotely projectable kid in the mix at this point. McCance got snaps last Fall, runs exceptionally well and kind of plays like an extra-Linebacker in an already Linebacker-laden Defense. Beyond that, it’s hard to say as of this writing what BWP can do in terms of physicality up front protecting their Linebackers and holding the line against the power run game.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: The front end of the schedule reads as a favorable one for a team with questions to answer. Absolute, the opener with A-Town is no picnic, but the Sparclones get to host the Tornados in the contest; and then follow that pick-em contest with three very winnable games against Ridgewood, Havana and the Brian Lafferty led Rushville-Industry Rockets after that. There’s a real chance here for David Roddis’ crew to build some momentum and confidence into the brutish Elmwood/Farmington back-to-back midseason; before closing out with three more contests where BWP will likely be favored against Peoria Heights, South Fulton, and Lewistown. I read that blindly as at least five wins and perhaps as many as seven; provided, of course, Offensive Line Play comes into focus. Point blank, I see this as a very gritty Defensive Football team that can grab victories without having to score a ton of points to get there. That’s not to say that the BWP Offense won’t click. I am simply pointing out that the legitimate line questions in play there don’t bother me as much here because I do think BWP will be incredibly stingy. If things work out for the best up front for the Sparclones on Offense, all the better. I just kind of like who these guys are and the attitude they affect; regardless of whatever warts you want to point out on the roster. No, BWP isn’t really blessed with size or marquee names. That said, this group does have the habit of playing well together and off each other and I think that, along with a now established pedigree of success, goes a long way in continuing the trend of progress in McDonough County. So don’t write these guys off just yet.