2018 Gridiron: North Shelby Raiders
Colors: Red and Old Gold
Total Returning Lettermen: 14
2017 Overall Record: 3-7
Head Coach: Seth Bass
Years at School: 3
Record at School: 8-13
Overall Record: 13-26
BETTER NOW: WITH THEIR “INITIATION DUES” PAID IN FULL, AN ARMED-TO-THE-TEETH RAIDERS SQUAD AIMS TO TAKE THE EIGHT MAN WORLD BY STORM
THANK YOU SIR, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER: On premise, North Shelby’s embrace three years ago of Eight Man Football seemed a godsend for a program struggling to maintain roster sizes in the high teens. That Raider Football is not only “still with us” in 2018 but thriving today to the tune of nearly 30 committed young men is an unqualified victory for the North Shelby School District itself and a ray of hope for tiny community football as a whole. That established, those of us previously uninitiated to this particular gridiron “varietal” probably underestimated the quality that exists at the deep end of the Eight Man Pool in the Show-Me-State. I, for one, will fully cop to thinking the Raiders transition would be instantly seamless. North Shelby’s 33% win clip since reclassifying paints a very different story. From the jump, The Raiders scheduled the crème-de-la-crème of The Class because they were desperate to fill games. We quickly learned here that there was a reason those teams had readily available game dates: because no one else wanted to have to play these guys. In 2017, North faced six Top Ten Ranked teams; which goes a long way toward explaining the 3-7 final record. There remains, as ever, a gathered and valued wisdom in struggle. After two years of hazing at the hands of the Sacred Hearts and Hardin Centrals of the world, these Raiders are now far more attuned to their battle environment. And more importantly, Seth Bass is no longer having to fight this fight with essentially Junior Varsity soldiers. North Shelby enters the 2018 campaign with a truly veteran roster. Fourteen returning Lettermen in tow and with full time starters from last season reprising their roles in every spot on the Offense and all but one spot on the Defense. Suffice it to say, the playing field is finally level.
UHLS WELL THAT ENDS WELL: Metrically, North Shelby returns players responsible for producing 2946 of the 3001 yards of total offense generated a season ago. That is the highest holdover production percentage of any team in Tri-State Football. Senior Mason Uhlmeyer is the most proven and bankable catalyst in this equation; a young man who has played essentially every skill position slot on the field. And in that versatility, there is great forward value. Seth Bass can line him up just about anywhere and allow him to create opportunity in the ample space the eight man game provides. Mason is coming off a Junior campaign that saw him amass 1004 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on just a smidge over a hundred total totes. The per-carry average suggests Uhlmeyer is a premier home run threat and the numbers do not lie. That said, the really appeal to me in Mason Uhlmeyer isn’t straight line speed. He’s got this almost indescribable “slippery” quality as a run that makes him as hard to corral as a bucking bronco slathered in Crisco. He has a knack for wiggling his way out of really tight quarters and finding ten extra yards on the back end that seemed otherwise doomed. He’s really a unique back. And here, he’s the straw that stirs the drink.
IS THERE MORE: Plenty, actually. The Raiders return mobile Quarterback Dayton Metes, who rushed for nearly 700 yards and nine touchdowns on 110 totes. Junior Running Back Ethan Geisendorfer is coming off a 98 carry campaign that saw him drum up 539 rushing yards and five touchdowns. The shifty Jadyn Hardy diversifies the run game even further after posting an eight yards per carry average as a Sophomore. The addition of a healthy Ethan Epperson deepens the backfield arsenal here as does the looming promise of a 14 man incoming Freshman Class. The Raiders also boast a greatly enhance pool of candidates at Tight End. Bryant Gibbons is back, but depth is such that he could also swing to Offensive Line if the need is greater there. Gus Williams brings proven physicality to the mix. Elijah Greenwell is back after missing the 2017 season and looms here as an incredibly intriguing two-way weapon who brings nifty size/athletic ability at 6’1” and 180 pounds at both TE and Safety. Freshman Cale Stoneburner, who is the long range future for North Shelby at Quarterback, is an athlete in his own right and could project early in his career at one of the other skill position slots in the interim.
MESMER-IZED: Of equal if not greater importance, the Raiders walk into a season with arguably their best preseason Offensive Line scenario since at least the Matt Smith Era. North brings back the entirety of a Front Wall that helped amass 29 points and 300 rushing yards per game a season ago. Junior Carson Mesmer (6’2” 240lbs) and Sophomore Jackson Lunsford (5’10” 280lbs) help lend an imposing feel to the front. Nick Miles and or Bryant Gibbons are cut from the speed blocker cloth and have great utility getting out ahead of all that backfield speed in the Spread Option. Senior Kirby Latimer broadens the option pool even further. From top to bottom, this offense seems exponentially improved. Again, the Raiders have to do a considerably better job controlling errors; particularly the inordinate number of turnovers that proved their undoing and underscored their relative youth a year ago. Assuming improvement in that department, the Raiders should be absolutely potent moving the football up and down the field.
CLEAN SLATE: There’s no real diplomatic way to frame this so I’ll just come out and say it: North Shelby was painfully ineffective as a Defensive Unit in 2017. You are not going to win many games at any level of football giving up 60 points per night. And the Raiders have given up more home run plays the last two years than the Colorado Rockies. It was a lesson not lost on Seth Bass this off-season, who opted to unleash a schematic wrecking ball on past philosophy and approach and start over from scratch. Conceptually, the new modus operandi is to employ a 2-3-3 scheme that better frames up around the mobile athletes that the Raiders have and diminishes the overall susceptibility of the whole to an individual mistake. Smarter football is a necessity. And it should be a given with ten guys back in the mix for eight spots who made starts at one time or another last season. Linebacker Bryant Gibbons is the top returning tackler from that unit (56 stops) and he and Youssef Francis will be asked to better cement the middle of that defense. Kirby Latimer and Freshman Kyle Smith will got long preseason looks at Linebacker as well in the quest to create the most active three man combo positive as the Raiders look to make it harder for opponents to so readily and quickly get to the second and third levels. Better D-Line play changes that equation significantly, though playing a two man front puts a lot of pressure on those gentlemen to really get after it. Nick Miles and Jackson Lunsford each posted 28 tackles apiece a year ago. With Carson Mesmer and Gus Williams returning up front as well, North should be able to rotate in fresh legs and maximize work rate on the D-Line.
THE AMAZING METTES: Because they had to do so often last season, we know the North Shelby Raider Defensive Backs can make tackles. Ethan Geisendorfer and Mason Uhlmehyer both had 41 stops a year ago. Datyon Mettes added 36. The goal here is to give them a little better cover up front and uncomplicate their lives some. The addition here of Elijah Greenwell adds a Linebacker Sized Centerfielder to the back end of the unit and I think overall should help ratchet up the physicality moving forward.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: North Shelby profiles as a team that could legitimately double its 2017 win total and rise as one of the real success stories of the Fall. But that is for the Raiders themselves to decide. Potential has never won anyone a single game in the history of football. It’s about production. And in North’s case, turning the page on the mediocre recent history of the program and doing those critical things in-game that tip the balance towards victory, rather than defeat. Tackle proficiency on initial contact. Football security. Veteran awareness of game situation at all times. That doesn’t magically happen for players when they become Juniors and Seniors. It’s a conscious, crafted choice to prioritize these things and put team above self. That’s the Rubicon this team has to collectively cross to get where its talent suggests it is capable of going. If this North Shelby crew plays at Max-Q both mentally and physically, there’s not a game on the schedule they can’t win. And we will find out really quickly if the Raiders have that in them. Week Two and Three Home Dates with Sacred Heart and Norborne/Hardin Central are not just statement opportunities for North to prove it has arrived, they are legitimate building blocks to a Conference Championship and Statewide Respect. By the first week of September, those of us on the outside looking in will know with certainty if an ascendant North Shelby is for real or more of the same. In that spirit then, I can’t imagine there is a team out there with greater preseason incentive to work hard every day in practice and pay the price in the Weight Room and more motivation to rip into this season and from a personal and community pride standpoint, rip into the past Football Hierarchies that have pushed Raider Football to the background for far too long. How these kids maximize this rare window of opportunity says a lot about the fight within them. Nothing would make me happier in my job description to talk about a North Shelby football team as enthusiastically as we could back in the 1990’s heyday of Kent O’Laughlin. What a fun reversal of fortunes that would be. Giddy to see if the gents have the gumption to pull this off.