2018 Gridiron: Macomb Bombers
Colors: Orange and Black
Total Returning Lettermen: 25
2017 Overall Record: 1-8
Head Coach: Tony Westen
Years at School: 1
Record at School: 1-8
Overall Record: 1-8
THE RISE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION: BOMBERS SEEK TO FIND TRACTION AFTER TRANSITIONAL SEASON
SUCCESSION: The tricky combination of brutal schedule/sweeping systemic change left the Macomb Bombers in struggle in 2017. A 34-7 road win at Farmer City/Blue Ridge in Week Three provided the only victory of Tony Westen’s first season on the sidelines. While a 1-8 finish was not to anyone’s satisfaction, it was both a predictable and perhaps necessary reset catering to the long term future of the program. See also Coach Westen ambitiously implementing a more modern passing component/threat to the mix. Last year, he was essentially left arming that thing with conversion projects. In contrast, Macomb will enter the Fall of 2018 with, for example, actual Wide Receivers playing said position, rather than still-converting Running Backs. And while that might have been the most obvious permutation of change, it’s not unfair to characterize every single player on Macomb’s roster last season as a rookie, given that all of them were dealing with some level of new/different in positional job description. That’s no longer the case moving forward. With the price of transition now paid in full and the training wheels off, the Bombers will actually be starting at Point A this summer like everyone else; rather than trying to rally from a lap down in the learning process. And with 25 roster returnees and a dozen starters back, rapid improvement is certainly within this team’s grasp.
THE ELEPHANT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM: Moving forward, the Bomber Offense now profiles as a veteran group. There is a six-man returning nucleus on that side of the ball with rich veins of talent at Wide Receiver, Running Back and on the Offensive Line. Those will be more easily addressed on this page in a moment. What isn’t as clear as of this writing is just who it will be that orchestrates this group at Quarterback. Look, individual stats in a one win season are never going to flatter anyone, but from a pure eye-test standpoint last Fall, Jacob Burg did a very credible job in a tough spot. His mix of toughness, smarts and a really strong arm create arguably the biggest hole on the roster tree. Reading the tea leaves here, it would seem that Sophomore VJ Lane is the de facto pre-season leader to fill those shoes. Fellow Sophomore Evis Campbell and Junior Running Back McKenna Gabbei are also members of the current Varsity roster who are listed as Quarterback prospects. Beyond that, I have little more to offer in terms of illumination or concrete evaluation at this critical position going into the start of Camp. I’ve never seen any of the kids in question take a snap or even throw a football in practice. So obviously, this will be a critical focus of our Barnstorm Visit in Bomber Country. Stay tuned.
WORTH AN OGLE: Whoever it is that does become Macomb’s Quarterback this season figures to profit from a deep well of Weapons with which to work. Tony Westen is very high on his Receiver Group, which returns three starters in John Ogle, Kyle Protsman, and Alai Stone and boasts a host of young up-and-comers as well. Ogle and Protsman are athletic, darting slot type weapons who are hard to cover in the pattern and even more dangerous after the catch. Ogle set the team high water mark for catches as a Sophomore with 21 receptions a year ago, which he translated into 218 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns, including an impressive 44 yarder against Manual. Protsman is a kid who can create in space and who can go from anywhere on the field. He was largely a Running Back a year ago, but some positional mix and match options in the backfield and Kyle’s nine receptions a year ago suggested that this is a guy who can very much add some needed shine to the passing game. Alai Stone is the kind of bigger target at 6’1” and 200 pounds this offense needs to keep the sticks moving. If he doesn’t end up at Quarterback, don’t sleep for one second on Evis Campbell jumping in here to give even greater dimension to the offense (Can’t wait for the first TV Broadcast call I get to make proclaiming that Evis has left the building) as well.
While McKenna Gabbei’s 2017 resume largely comprised of contributions at Safety and on Special Teams, he did get some run as the One Back in the Macomb Spread last year. If he doesn’t end up at Quarterback, it’s a good bet Gabbei seizes that starters role this Fall. What I can tell you from what I’ve seen of Gabbei is that this he showed toughness and constant leg drive last year as Sophomore. The 175 pounder is a straight line runner without a lot of wiggle, but he seems to read defenses well and continuously work for yardage. Fellow Junior Bryan Farkas is a name worth watching here as well as Coach Westen meticulously tries to get the balance of Run/Pass in his offense calibrated to his exact liking. Keep an eye on the Bombers pace of offensive play as well, which should be both much accelerated and improved in 2018.
MUTATIONS: Again, it won’t get a lot of play given the team’s struggles last Fall but Macomb did cultivate a pair of pretty good Offensive Linemen along the way. Senior Garrett Beck quietly enjoyed a breakout Junior Campaign on both sides of the Football. The 5’10” 220 pound Center will be a tone setter for this group up front with his ability to run and pass block with equal aplomb. He appears to be a really astute kid on top of his physicality. With continued improvement, Jeremiah Pierce has difference making potential for this Offense at Guard. The 260 pounder has great physical presence and the strength to carve out running lanes for the speedy kids behind him. Macomb’s O-Line will likely be built with young bucks around these two Seniors. Sophomore Aaron Meunier is probably the most physically ready today of a group of underclassmen who will fight it out for starting slots up front.
THE STONE AGE: The Bomber Defense gave up 354 points last Fall. That’s a robust generosity for certain, but I am not sure that Macomb was a much “bad” defensively as it was (A) prone to untimely mistakes and (B) tremendously over-exposed/over-worked given the offensive struggles that left it parked on the field too long. Greater experience here should remedy both issues.
Linebacker Abi Stone headlines a unit that returns a half dozen holdover starters. The Senior is top returning tackler from last season (52 stops) with big time play making panache off the blitz. Abi had four tackles for loss and three Quarterback Sacks a year ago. Coach Westen could steal a page from his esteemed predecessor Kelly Sears and go “big” at Middle Linebacker with a Aaron Meunier or Dalton Deener (6’ 235lbs) to project more physicality. Bryan Farkas’ star seems to be on the rise as Junior Linebacker Prospect as well.
The Secondary will be the unquestioned strength of the Defense preseason. John Ogle and McKenna Gabbei are both back at Safety. Kyle Protsman resumes his turn at Cover Corner after posting 29 tackles and an Interception a year ago. Ogle had 37 tackles at Free Safety as a Sophomore. Gabbei snared a pick against Manual. He’s all arms and legs but uses them to good effect with his one-on-one tackling technique. This is a very underrated crew that deserves better preseason respect.
Nose Tackle Garrett Beck is the standard on a Defensive Line that will be largely rebuilt. He’s a rugged, high motor attacker who had 36 tackles a year ago with three stops for loss and a quarterback sack. His hustle sets a leaderly tone. Jeremiah Pierce was a spot starter in 2017 at Defensive Tackle. Just a hunch here but lookout for youngsters Atoa Stone and Zander DeWeese as rangy Defensive Ends with high ceilings and three seasons of varsity football to get there.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: If, as expected, the Bomber Offense better has its footing in place and identity established, there is hay to be made for this program early in the season. A road trip to Lincoln to open. Visits from Canton and Farmer City/Blue Ridge to follow. And then a visit to Mount Zion thereafter? Those are all games in which Macomb should minimally be uber-competitive; if not favored against at least the Railers and Knights. That is a momentum and confidence amassing opportunity for a team, that while young, still possesses a sneaky cache of assets. If you can take off the 2017 goggles, there are a lot of pieces on this Bomber squad who would be high end guys for any program in the area. And I suspect that lesson of 2017 for Tony Westen is more directed asset management. Find ways to turn the John Ogle and Kyle Protsman loose more often in lower risk scenarios. In short, all of these guys are growing together in a better way. If they could just get the right spark early (2-2 headed into the meat of the schedule would be huge) than maybe the Bombers go into those games with West Hancock and QND and Mahomet Seymour feeling like their equals. That’s a huge building block. By nature, I am generally pretty conservative in projecting teams preseason; especially those with Quarterbacks I’ve never seen play a lick. Still, I could very easily envision a scenario where Macomb gets 3 or 4 early wins and puts itself into at the Playoff Conversation; which would be a huge swing in program momentum for these kids; a build back towards the old Macomb days. That’s ideally what this season needs to be. And the potential is clearly there this season and into the future. It just takes one spark. That’s a hard thing to remember when you’ve been beaten down and won just three games over the last two years. But if these Bombers can just overcome that mindset and embrace who they are/what they can be, I do think we could be looking at one of the real positive storylines of 2018 here. The Tri-State football community at large needs is just better with a reinvigorated Macomb. Here’s your chance gents to make it so and create a better opportunity for the generation of Bombers who need a reason to want to follow your lead.