2018 Gridiron: Knox County Eagles
Total Returning Lettermen: 11
2017 Overall Record: 5-5
Head Coach: Bruce Vannoy
Years at School: 2
Record at School: 5-5
HARD KNOX: EAGLES TRACE RISING OPTIMISM, EXPANDED ASPIRATIONS TO PROVEN LINE PLAY, DYNAMIC LINEBACKER GROUP
THE VANNOY HILTON: All things considered, it was a very solid first season at the helm of Knox County Football for Bruce Vannoy, who piloted the Eagles to a 5-5 mark despite his roster taking some problematic graduation hits. Heck, the post mortem on 2017 could have been even sunnier than that as the Eagles nearly stunned Westran in a 21-20 Week Three loss and came up just shy of taking out Mark Twain in the District Opener. For a team playing eleven underclassmen in the two-deep, Knox did a remarkably effective job embracing an “identity” as a football team and playing to strength. That leaves a substantial nucleus around which to build. Vannoy will employ a dozen seasoned starters to start the 2018 campaign, including seven on a defense that seems poised for a major step forward this Fall.
MAUCK TRIAL: The most positive development of the 2017 campaign for Knox County saw Logan Miller (5’11” 225) and Robert Mauck (6’1” 220lbs) emerge as true tentpole players at Outside Linebacker. They will serve as the anchor of this Defense as it reconfigures to improve on a 25 points per game allowed average from a year ago. Coming off a Sophomore Campaign that saw him set benchmarks among all returnees by bagging 85 total tackles, 45 solos and seven stops for loss, Mauck shimmers with potential. He will exact a toll on opponents with his physicality and his size, and yet was agile enough to break up four passes and interception three balls dropping in coverage. He figures to be plenty decorated over the next two seasons. And he fits well with Miller, who might be as functionally strong at the point of attack as any Backer in NEMO. Miller ravaged the field to the tune of 73 stops and six backfield takedowns this season and ran well enough to join Mauck as one half of the Eagles State Qualifying 4x100 meter sprint relay squad. Put simply, these are not fun kids to have to block. And they are certainly not dudes you as a running back want seeking to plant you in the ground. The Eagles will need to cultivate a starter here to either replace Cory Moubry in the Middle of the 4-3 scheme or jump outside and slide one of these two monsters to the inside. If that last piece of the puzzle falls right, this group belongs in the conversation with Clark County and Camp Point Central for best Linebacker stable in our region.
STRONG AND STEADY: While it was a bit of baptism by Fire last Fall for Knox County’s young Secondary, Bruce Vannoy was ultimately able to deem Defensive Backfield play as a net strength by District Time. Senior Dillon Strong is the anchor here; a young man who developed quite an aptitude for denying the football to wide receivers. Dillon’s eight pass defenses were tops on the team; though I suspect he merited enough respect with his 2017 resume that he won’t be tested nearly as much this Fall. Connor Hays showed great grit and go as a Freshman, leading this DB unit in tackles with 41. He also netted an interception and a pair of pass defenses. Trenton Klocke will also reprise his role here as a starter, while Nash Miller and Sophomore Coltin Morrow infuse depth and athleticism to what looms as a deep, strong mix.
HUBBLE, HUBBLE, TOIL AND TROUBLE: The snap shot of his Head Coaching career may be brief, but Bruce Vannoy’s reputation for cultivating Linemen dates back to his assistant work here on Alex Van Delft’s staff. And given what returns on both sides of the ball, I don’t think it unfair to suggest that Knox County’s trench strenghs will be on full display in 2018. Defensive Tackle seems to be a considerable reserve of strength and depth. Zane Hubble (5’9” 265lbs) Shelby York (5’10 160lbs) and Bradey Walton (5’11” 330lbs) all have starters pedigrees. The Defensive End slots are little more hazy, though Sophomores Matthew Carlson (who produced 2 tackles for loss as a Frosh) and Trace Wheeler loom as the DE Elects in Waiting. There is a wide variety of “types” here: body types, speed types, athletic types et al. The mix and match capability should be enough to keep Opponents off balance.
MILLER TIME: For the second straight season, the Eagles take an absolute drubbing the graduation department in the skill positions. And for the second straight year, Knox County is banking on a conversion product to help create a true “Option A” on Offense. Coach Vannoy and crew certainly seemed to get It right last season in moving Cory Moubry from Guard to Fullback. Logan Miller’s transition from Tight End in doing same feels just as apt. And in fact, given Logan’s physical profile and speed at 225 pounds, we project Miller as a Top 10 (possibly Top 5) yardage producer from that spot this Fall as he has more break to daylight potential than his predecessor. And as Knox County transitions back to a more traditional Wing-T approach in 2018, having a Wrecking Ball Fullback who can also hit home runs feels just about wheelhouse for stardom.
THE REST OF THE STORY: Outside of Logan Miller’s lone receiving touchdown in 2017, the Knox County Eagles do not bring back a single point of demonstrable offensive output from last season. To quote the noted Philosopher Sun-Tzu (or was it the esteemed Poet/Wrestling Manager “The Brain” Hennan?) “Where there is chaos, there is opportunity.” Vannoy will array some likely Running Back rota of Dillon Strong (28 carries, 98 yards in 2017) Trenton Klocke (4 catches 94 yards) and Nash Miller in the Wingback/Tailback slots to counterpunch their Showpiece Fullback. Quarterback is getting a revamped job description in Edina with the implementation of the Wing-T and a deeper dedication to the ground game. Sophomore Connor Hays (5’9” 150lbs) is likely to man the controls. Honestly, I’ve not seen the young man throw or run much at the varsity level as we only had three touches at Wide Receiver all season. That said, and as previously established, the kid did show plenty of tenacity coming up against the Run on Defense, so we can feel reasonably assured he won’t be cowed by the stage or the big moment.
GRADING THE ROAD: Skill position attrition alone didn’t spur the Eagles schematic and philosophic changes of approach on Offense. The Eagles genuinely feel they have the kind of beasts of burden up front to run behind and run behind successfully. Trace Wheeler, Robert Mauck and Zane Hubble are all returning starters from a year ago; and Mauck and Hubble will be three year starters each to that cause. That’s a pretty enviable scenario; one made better by the fact that the Eagles will employ guys who can get to the second and third levels of a Defense with skill position-type quickness. Sophomores Floyd Miller and Mathew Carlson only add to that “quick hitter” identity. And let’s not forget that Junior Bradey Walton brings hulking size here that will come in handy in short yardage scenarios.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: Thematically, Knox County seems to be pulling a page from the Hancock County Football playbook here in scaling down its approach; amplifying what it does best. Playing to strength and
minimizing exposure by forcing round pegs into square holes. The “don’t complicate winning” approach and given the clear outliers that exist for this football team, I think it’s a really sound football model. Run the ball down everyone’s throat with a Fullback who likes contact. Keep them in front of you on defense and let your Linebackers come in and clean their clocks. Might not be sexy football but it sure seems enough to make Knox a difficult team to dislodge from its rhythms, let alone beat. We’ll have a quick read on the accuracy of that assumption pretty quickly, with Marceline and Westran looming in Weeks Two and Three. Steal one of those and Knox is legit as a Lewis and Clark Contender. I think the top end of the L & C is really interesting this year and I certainly think the Eagles can get into that conversation with of five really good teams that have a shot to hoist that League Plaque at season’s end. The drawback here, however, is that much like their equally ascendant Conference Mates Scotland County, the Eagles are sequestered in a nasty district that is home to your defending state champion Monroe City. That’s not exactly the recipe for long range postseason confidence considering how elite the Panthers once again profile. But you get there and you take your chances. And as I like the grit and nastiness of this Knox outfit, I would not at all be surprised if they fought their way into that Title Game slot along the way in upending glitzier contenders like Scotland or South Shelby. This may be the era of Acronym Offenses and Defensive Formations that read like a Fibonacci Sequence but I am a firm believer that good old fashioned fundamental execution, aggressive blocking and tackling, and ironheaded running of the football is still a wonderful route to fulfilling expectation. Knox has all of these in spades. If the Eagles put them to consistent good use, they are going to be an exacting and frustrating team to try and beat. In that sense, I like them for at least six wins in the regular season and great “dark horse” status come the District complex.