2018 Gridiron: Fort Madison Bloodhounds
Colors: Red and Black
Total Returning Lettermen: 23
2017 Overall Record: 4-5
Head Coach: Tony Shiffman
Years at School: 1
Record at School: 4-5
Overall Record: 4-5
THAT DOG WILL HUNT: REVITALIZED BLOODHOUNDS ACCELERATE TIMETABLE ON AGGRESSIVE REBUILDING PLAN
OUT OF THE CELLAR: Four win seasons aren’t generally cause for celebration. Then again, there aren’t many places where such an occurrence represents a 400% spike in productivity in the win column either. Not that Tony Shiffman spent much time patting himself on the back for overseeing Fort Madison’s rise from winless to respectable in eight months-time. You are more likely to hear the Bloodhound skipper lament the missed victory opportunities last year’s squad left on the table than spend one self-satisfied moment thinking to himself “something was accomplished” in 2017. Shiffman considers himself a winner and winners don’t rationalize moral victories. But for those of us on the outside who have the luxury of distant perspective rather than personal investment, it’s really easy to marvel at the job Tony, his staff, and his kids did last Fall breathing life into a program that has been dormant for far too long. By any measuring stick, Tony Shiffman turned in one of the finest coaching performances in the region in 2017. And in so doing, he’s set the tableau here for advancing Fort Madison Football to an even higher purpose. A crumbling football foundation has been reversed. And Phase Two of the rebuild carries on with a better environment established to ramp up expectations on victory totals, playoff contention, but most basically modeling the behaviors and profiles of a successful program. The Bloodhound veteran players here now know the exacting price of even the most basic success. They learned, first hand, that there is more to succeeding in this game than simply buckling a chin strap on a Friday Night. And they saw, from a vantage point further up the trail mind you, how far they still have to go to make Bloodhound Football a consistent winner. A playoff qualifier. A showpiece. And they are so tasked with extending that evolution. It certainly won’t be an easy process. Fort Madison may return 23 lettermen and 13 starters from a year ago, but the pieces the Bloodhounds must replace are considerable.
THE HIT PEOPLE: Under the new Football “Capo Regime” last Fall, Fort Madison made an eleven points per game improvement in Defensive Stinginess. Metrically, that is a huge swing for any team. The more revealing undercurrent here is all that movement still saw the Bloodhounds improve from allowing near 50 points per night to a slightly less bloated 37. Translation, there is still ample room and crying need for more tweaking here. The upshot here for Tony Shiffman is that he’s got seven returning starters in the mix for a Defense whose “user friendliness” should be greatly enhanced by all this experience. To that end, I am particularly encouraged here by the return of Linebackers Sam Hayes and Diego Lozano. As anchor pieces for this rebuild, those kids are essentially the heart of the beast. Moreover, both of them fit a needed mold here. Hayes is a 6’1” 215 pound Senior who doubles in the Winter as a terrific Wrestler and infuses a natural mental and physical toughness into the mix. He had 58 tackles and three stops for loss a year ago, but I still think his athletic profile and zeal for contact affords him a much higher ceiling than that. Lozano is a 6’2” 215 pound Junior who looms as one of the brightest Defensive breakout candidates in the Tri-States. He showed some incredible chops as Sophomore last Fall bagging 52 tackles. Diego is one of those guys who tend to hit people in a manner that stops plays cold. And he showed great ability to crash the Offensive Backfield with a team high five tackles for Loss. Diego’s game is only going to get more nuanced and he’s only going to get savvier and stronger over the next two years. Bottom line here, the Hounds have a pair of proven run stuffers in place to frame the rest of the Defense around. Don’t discount the presence here of Quentin Schneider and Harley Pennamon, who could emerge as contributors as well.
THUMP-ISM: The Hound Linebackers are positioned to benefit from an experienced and goodly sized Defensive Line. Junior Danen Settles (5’9” 230lbs) is the key cog returning up front. He’s a bit of a heat-seeking missile for the Hounds who roamed and ravaged his way to 49 total stops a year ago; an indicator of excellent motor and uncommon mobility for a guy playing his position. Settles displayed a burgeoning talent for disruption as well with four stops in opponents backfields. Both Alex Craft (6’1” 250lbs) and Alex Lauber (6’ 225lbs) made starts alongside Settles last season. Juniors Jayden Fedler (6’4” 245lbs) and Thumper Wood (5’10” 220lbs) will also factor into the depth chart on the D-Line. The Hounds will certainly pass the eye test up front with that kind of girth. Translating it all into tangible production is the key leap forward, but on paper, this spot has the chance to be strength.
REDD DAWN: Shaymour Redd-Donald’s presence in the Secondary looms as a large plus for the Hounds as well. The Senior boasts a lithe, 6’1” frame and the needed quickness to break on the football. He had 39 tackles a year ago and snared an interception as well. Senior Nick Carter returns as well, on the strength of a Junior Campaign that saw him post 18 tackles and a pick of his own. Sophomores Will Larson and Calem Maclearn are poised to join their veteran counterparts in patrolling the skies for the Hounds. From top to bottom, the Fort Madison Defense seems poised for considerable improvement. That said, depth might be a broader concern overall and as of this writing, Tony Shiffman remained a bit in limbo with roster wondering if some of the kids recruited from his hallways to help flesh out the roster. If they make good on their word, Fort Madison could have its most compelling preseason Defensive Two-Deep in years.
BEAST MODE 2: Tony Shiffman’s decision to implement a Spread Offense in 2017 to a program that was seriously employing a modern version of the Single Wing just four years ago was about as radical a football upheaval as you’ll find in our area. The benefits were both cosmetic and resonant. The Hounds quadrupled their nightly scoring output to 24 points per game and amassed some 309 yards of total offense per game. For a team that led the region in three-and-outs a year earlier, that’s a huge production bump. Moreover, it’s an inducement for kids to want to play football. The Fort Madison Offense wasn’t just radically better in 2018, it was infinitely more fun to play. Here’s a fun factoid. In 2016, the Bloodhounds produced 117 passing yardsfor the entire season. Last Fall, Fort Madison averaged 141 a game. To that end, a tip of the cap to Quarterback Lennon Barker, who really made a nice transition to the new system at Quarterback. His Junior Year netted 1229 total passing yards and 13 touchdowns. Contrast that with the 91 total passing yards, four interceptions and nary a single TD sling the year before. That’s a 91 point climb for Lennon in his Quarterback rating from Sophomore to Junior Year. And his ascent is far from over. Lennon’s had a complete year and change at the helm of this offense. We expect his 46% accuracy rate to climb. And his instincts for the position will only be more polished a year later. He three just six interceptions in 204 attempts last season. That’s really impressive decision making. Barker looms as a very good trigger man for this offense. But he’s not nearly as well armed with weapons as he was a year ago, and that is the developmental axis on which this Offense’s success likely hinges.
UNLEASHING THE HOUNDS: Fort Madison graduates one of the best Running Backs in the state of Iowa in Alex Gully, whose 1355 ground yards and 16 touchdowns won’t be easily replicated. They also bid goodbye to Lennon Barker’s top three receivers, including 688 yard/9 touchdown contributor Shance Redd-Donald. Those are a bunch of real big shoes to fill. Trey Kuntz is the top returning pass catcher back in the mix. He had nine receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown a year ago. His profile is going to expand rapidly. Dom Frantz (6’1” 180lbs) is a Senior who could eat up some of that lost production. The Coaching Staff is also high on Junior Quentin Schneider (6’1” 180lbs) Senior Harley Pennamon (5’11” 170lbs) and Soph Will Larson (5’11” 165lbs) as emerging targets. In the running game, there are three big names to remember at this juncture. Shaymour Redd-Donald mirrors some of Gully’s better attributes and his versatility. Diego Lozano had 30 carries, 137 yards and a touchdown last Fall as a change of pace “power option” out of the backfield. Calem Maclearn (5’7” 155lbs) is also very much in that mix after carrying the ball just 13 times in cameo duty a year ago. The upshot for the Hounds Ground Game is that a veteran Offensive Line is back almost intact; fronted by Danen Settles, Alex Lauber and Alec Craft. Again, not sure how the pieces ultimately shuffle out but Tony Shiffman will have some options to play with.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: The Hounds are infinitely more intriguing as a program, and a whole lot tougher as a collective, than they were a year ago at this time. Unfortunately, so too is Fort Madison’s schedule, which was “gifted” powerhouse Solon in the off-season reshuffling process. To get to where Tony Shiffman wants this program to be in Year Two, there’s simply not going to be much margin for error, and that’s a complicated proposition for a team not far removed from its winless, error-addled past. I am not going to doubt this staff; especially not after last year. So when Tony Shiffman says “I think we can be very good,” I tend to take him at his word. Will the Hounds good be good enough to push the margins to the seven/eight win level? That’s the crystal ball that remains really cloudy right now. A lot of positional replacements have to fall just right for the Bloodhounds to make another forward leap; this one I’d assert coming with a far higher degree of difficulty. Still, on paper. the talent and potential are evident. And these guys finally have some traction and momentum working in their favor. Let’s conservatively set the over/under on five wins and reassess after that big Week One road trip to a revenge-minded Central Lee to see if we over/underestimated the Hounds. If Fort Madison attends its business there and shows solidity in those question areas I enumerated above, then I would certainly entertain the notion that these guys are in fact a new kind of legit, now.