2018 Gridiron: Pittsfield Saukees
Colors: Red and Black
Total Returning Lettermen:
2017 Overall Record: 0-9
Head Coach: Paul Petty
Years at School: 1
Record at School: 0-0
Overall Record: 0-0
THERE’S A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN: EYEING A RETURN TO FORM, SAUKEES UNDERGO SIGNIFICANT OFF-SEASON SHAKE-UP
A NEW HOPE: In the wake of a winless 2017 campaign that extended the program’s now seven season playoff drought, Curt Simonson stepped down as Pittsfield Head Football Coach after a four year run and touched off a bit of a tumultuous off-season. Initially, Pittsfield struggled to garner much in the way of applicant interest for the position. Enter Paul Petty. Himself, a former Saukee standout Quarterback, not to mention the soon to be retiring Pike County Sherriff. And now “prematurely retired” Pikeland School Board Member after coming to the epiphany that the fate of Pittsfield Football would not be changed for the better unless someone stepped up to take ownership of the situation. So Petty opted to be that “somebody” in voluntarily giving up his seat on the school board to try and reinvigorate football at his Alma Mater. He arrives to that job just in time to welcome in an uber-promising group of Sophomores and Freshmen.
FRESHMANAS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE: Mission number one for the new Saukee Skipper is reinvigorating morale. To Petty’s mind, installing brand new Offensive and Defensive Schemes that rev up “user” excitement levels. Expect to see Pittsfield incorporate their own version of a Spread Offense on Offense, putting them more in line with their high octane Sangamo Conference brethren. Defensively, the Saukees are looking at base schematics that allow kids to run to the football and infect a bit of adrenaline and excitement into the mix. Less chore, more fun to put it simply. And speaking plainly, this has been a pervasive issue for Pittsfield Football for going on a decade now: the inability to tackle and get opponents stopped with any kind of consistency. Last Fall, the Saukees gave up almost 50 points per game on average. So re-working that mousetrap to better ends is a critical component of culture change, improvement and player retention. So this is really nothing short of a total reboot on both sides of the football. In that spirit, Coach Petty is downplaying the whole “returning starters” narrative and operating under the premise that this really a “Freshman” year for everyone in the program relative to the brand new scheme. If that sounds to you like open positional competition and a willingness to play young kids early if they merit the reps.bingo. The early returns on this approach, however, seem to be yielding some hints at progress. A “30 day Boot Camp” in the month of May that was created to foster investment in the program was, in Petty’s words, “highly attended and very positive.”
IF YOU KNOW YOU KNOW: Becoming top end competitive in the rough and tumble Sangamo Conference is a process. There are no short cuts to the top of such a talent laden league. There is, however, a very nifty cheat code at the Saukees disposal that can make them more competitive relative to their opponents from Day One of workouts. It derives, simply enough, from an elevation in energy level and pride. That’s a controllable this team does have and the kind of spark that is needed daily to ignite the better-than-you realize talent kindling that exists here. There are some really good assets here upon which to build. Credible size, for starters in the trenches, with the returns of Junior Noah Petty (6’4” 255lbs) as well as Senior Nate Hoover (6’2” 210lbs) Isaac Shaw (6’3” 215lbs) and Will Heavner, who cuts a right-off-the assembly line figure at 6’4” and 270 pounds. On paper, that quartet reads as a highly viable Defensive Line. Add promising underclassmen Blaine Dell and Skyler Smith (who both got starters reps as a Sophomore and Frosh respectively last Fall) to those gents and suddenly Pittsfield’s Offensive Line profiles in a much more interesting way as well. There is experience and raw ability here. The measurable are good. The unknown quantity in this mix is confidence, physicality and motor. Will these guys affect those commodities snap-to-snap and tilt the playing field back in their own direction. Or will they fall into old patterns and backslide into the culture of struggle that undercut their own talents a year ago? It’s really that simple of a choice. A motivated Saukee Offensive and Defensive Line, with these obvious assets, closes the gaps here faster than anything else in play for the Program. Get after people/get a little nasty at the line of scrimmage and the curb appeal of this rebuild starts becoming far more obvious very quickly.
THE VALUE OF A DIME: The subtext of Paul Petty incorporating not traditional Secondary configurations suggests to me more than just an accommodation to his Conference’s reputation for wide-open offense. It’s a tell that Pittsfield thinks it has got enough good athletes potentially in play to get away with a two-man Linebacker profile. Not just traditional Defensive Backs per se but Rover-type run assets who can pull of critical double duty in the Sangamo. Jack Palmer is the best known commodity at this point as a Senior with ample secondary seasoning on his resume. It’s the tease of the mix-and-match that we don’t yet know about that also portends the potential for defensive improvement. Senior Keenan Taylor-Clark is a new addition to the roster who increases the range of this unit. There are also really high hopes for incoming Sophomore Braden Musgrave, who has sprinter’s burst and high jumpers bounce at his disposal as well as Tanner Robinson. Couple those gents with a deep, if unproven well of Linebacker candidates that includes Jack Hefner, Wade Howland, Trevor Tripp and intriguing Sophomore Gage Gratton vying to work with holdover starter Blaine Dell and Pittsfield certainly doesn’t lack for options. A lot rides here with someone stepping up and becoming a true lynchpin at level of the Back Seven. Still, you don’t have to squint hard to see the potential for measurable improvement at the back end of the Saukee Defense.
QUESTIONS THAT REQUIRE ANSWERS: If you are going to run a spread offense, you better have the right triggerman. Noah Mendenhall’s injury last season thrust Jack Palmer into the fore. He did some nice things at times (including a 70 yard touchdown pass) and struggled through transitional growing pains at others. He will be challenged by Junior Zane Phillips this Summer for the job and the results of that battle will go a long in determining the tenor of this attack.
The top holdover rusher from the 2017 season is Sophomore Gage Gratton, with a paltry six carries and 38 total ground yards on his resume. And considering that Gage is slated to move to Tight End in his Sophomore year, that creates quite the vacancy/opportunity/potential coaching ulcer at the Running Back Position. The Saukees don’t lack for candidates but as of this writing, I can even pretend to presume how that positional grouping will shake down and look come Fall. And if Paul Petty has an inkling of which direction he’s head at Running Back, he certainly isn’t tipping his hand yet.
And of course, there’s that not insignificant issue of entrenched poor tackling that has persisted for far too long in Saukee Country and is the root cause of this program’s gradual decline over the last decade and change.
To reiterate this is not an easy rebuild by any stretch of the imagination and patience and maintaining realistic reputation is a critical component of moving forward.
THE BREAKOUT GUY: Give me Nate Howard. He had 69 tackles, five stops for loss and four quarterback sacks a year ago, which is really nifty production in a great looking 6’4” 215 pound Defensive End Package. The truth is, Nate already has broken out. It’s just that Pittsfield’s season of struggle served to hide just how productive a weapon he actually became. We are going to bang the drum for him preseason just so people out there (A) understand he actually exists and (B) has a real shot to play college ball if he continues to work and hone his craft as an edge disruptor and rangy pursuit attacker.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: Hindsight is 20/20 but that decision to bolt the West Central Conference for the Sangamo back in 2014 sure was as ill-advised in retrospect as allowing JR Smith to run your offense in the final possession of an NBA Finals Game. This is a yearly Murderer’s Row of juggernauts and state ranked powers with but a single “traction” game on the slate in Pleasant Plains. And unfortunately for the Saukees, that game falls on Week Nine in 2018. Mercy. Rebuilding is tough enough absent such a high-degree of difficult schedule. So let’s be fair here. The best rubric we can apply here to Pittsfield, at least in Year One of the Petty Regime, is game to game tangible improvement/approach/enthusiasm. Throw the win/loss thing out the window and don’t pay any attention to the standings. Focus on the reps and the quality of them. Count the number of hats to the football and the number of initial contact tackles. Pay attention to how the yards per play averages rise and the vigor with which the Pittsfield Offensive Linemen get off the ball. These are the grading points that matter most because ultimately the goal here is 2018 but an open-ended future of better Gridiron Fortunes. This group then is tasked with the responsibility of template setting for the future. It’s not glamorous work and there’s little glory in it. But two years from now, when Saukee Football is better heeled and better armed and working metaphorically downhill rather than up; that brighter tomorrow will owe a huge debt of gratitude to these dudes who had the strength to reverse a trend and create light from dark.