2018 Gridiron: Pleasant Hill/Western Wolves
Colors: Blue, Red and White
Total Returning Lettermen: 11
2017 Overall Record: 5-5
Head Coach: Mike Giles
Years at School: 13
Record at School: 44-66
Overall Record: 44-66
KODIAKBACK: WOLVES ELEVATE NEW HEROES IN QUEST FOR RETURN PASSAGE TO THE IHSA PLAYOFFS
SOCIAL CLIMBING: On the strength of a gritty three game win streak to close out the regular season, Pleasant Hill/Western snared an at-large invite to the 2017 Class 1A Postseason party; ending an eight year playoff drought in the process. Granted, their stay at the party was a brief one. The Wolves drew undefeated Red Hill in the bracket and had their burgeoning Cinderella story summarily snuffed out in a 46-20 road loss to the Salukis. While it certainly was an inelegant dismount from what, at times, was a topsy-turvy season, the overall body of work turned in by that squad goes in the books as an unqualified win for Mike Giles, his kids, and the future of the program. From the jump, there was considerable pressure on that group to maximize a really good window of talent. Back-to-back season opening losses tightened that noose and skewed the playoff calculus heavily against the Wolves in making good on their promise of returning the program to respectability. And yet, PH/W fought upstream all the way to achieve that goal in a very inspired way. In defense of that point, I had a WIVC Coach tell me that after watching tape of the Wolves blowout Week One loss to Beardstown and following it up a week later with film study of the ensuing two-point defeat to Triopia that he had never seen any team make that much tangible forward process in seven days span. Clearly, the 2017 Pleasant Hill/Western Wolves were a team of superior resolve. Perhaps that will prove a transferable commodity because in order to spin forward last season’s progress, this newest incarnation of PH/W is going to have to show plenty of backbone of its own in even less advantageous circumstances.
DIPLOMA SARCOMA: Graduation hit the Wolves as hard as anyone in the WIVC. On initial glance, you look at the roster and see eleven returning Lettermen and six offensive starters back and think: “that’s not all that severe.” On deeper consideration, however, you begin to realize just how craterous the holes are that need to be plugged. Offensively, PH/W bids goodbye to its Face of the Franchise weapon and the consensus Top Quarterback in Tri-State Football in Dalton Crane. That’s a seismic hit alone on that side of the ball and considering just how much Crane meant to his team’s success in 2017. (Hint: Crane led the team in rushing last year to go along with his nearly 2000 passing yards) The further loss of set pieces Grant Pebbles and Justin Shireman take away reliable security blanket for whoever it is that succeeds Crane at the tiller of the PH/W Spread Offense. Defensively, the scenario isn’t much prettier. Just four starters back. The hit list here claiming stalwart Linebacker and 2017 leading tackler Nick Black as well as disruptive Defensive End Grant Pebbles and his team best 15 tackles for loss. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of missing puzzle pieces here for Mike Giles and Defensive Coordinator Ron Edwards to figure out between now and the Week One visit from Beardstown.
THE BEAR NECESSITIES: Theoretically, if you are going to frame up your Defensive Rebuild around a Linebacker named after a Bear, it’s my firm belief that you probably end up okay in the end. Kodiak (and I absolute refuse to ever shorten his name to Kody under any freaking circumstances) Rogers is going into his Junior Year but already profiles as one of the top ten two-way Football Players in the Tri-States. The 5’10” 210 pound Linebacker feels like a slightly faster clone of Monroe City’s Cole Pennewell, who I will remind you was the centerpiece of a State Championship Squad and the 2017 KHQA Defensive Player of the Year. Rogers has those kinds of chops. He finished second on PH/W last season in tackles with 109 and is just starting to scratch the surface of his big play potential after teasing fans with six tackles behind the line of scrimmage and two quarterback sacks as a Sophomore. And he’s now about to be handed the keys to his unit in jumping up to replace Nick Black. We are expecting monster numbers out of Rogers the next two seasons and it’s worth the trip alone to Pleasant Hill to hunt Running Backs.
DON’T SLEEP ON: In concert with Kodiak Rogers, the Wolves will bank on the continued ascent of Senior Defensive End Skylar Heatherly to help this unit reach equilibrium. The 6’1” 215 pounder displayed great range and chase down ability last year in bagging 88 tackles. His rising stock as a disruptor off the edge in the Wolves 4-3 scheme is going to be critical in helping shoehorn in five new starters up front. He might not be the only kid with that surname in that mix, either. Freshman Connor Heatherly is expected to contend for reps at Linebacker as well.
BUILDING A WOLFPACK: PH/W may be a work in progress with its Defensive Front but the Wolves do appear to have sown the seeds of a quality Secondary. Isaiha Rogers is a fantastic athlete and one of the better kept secrets in Tri-State Football despite posting nearly 850 receiving yards a year ago. I would argue his better Football Guise is as a free-roaming Defensive Centerfielder at Safety, who he picked off four passes a year ago and roared up against the run to the tune of 59 stops. Junior Russel Owens is also back at Cornerback, after breaking up three passes a year ago. Brendan Hull, Carl Conley and Elijah Berg are underclassmen who could man the two open vacancies in the Defensive Backfield.
The Interior Defensive Line is a huge question mark headed into Camp but I think it’s fair to say that PH/W will be nothing if not huge on the interior again this year. The Wolves have a couple of potential 300 pounders in play there, Gavin Anderson foremost among them. Ryan Tungate and Tristan Coy are 275 pounders in their own right who could jump in. This program never seems to lack for size and numbers inside.
CRANE KICK: After producing 35 points and some 395 yards per game last year, the Wolves most pressing order of business is finding a trigger man to replace Dalton Crane. They could go in a couple of different directions. Isaiha Rogers could shed his job title as “elite Wide Receiver” and use his multi-dimensional athletic skills to try and replicate last year’s magic. Or Junior Elijah Berg could step in (6’ 160 lbs) and win the job all allow Rogers to continue to confound and befuddle Defensive Backs. For obvious reasons, Scenario Two would probably be the preferred outcome. But we likely won’t get resolution here until deep into the Summer. However it shakes, someone here has gigantic shoes to fill.
A QUARTERBACK’S BEST FRIEND: As Mike Giles tries to reignite the passing portion of his Spread Offense, he can do so secure in the knowledge that he has the skeleton framework of an effective running game already largely in place. The Wolves return four starters from an Offensive Line that has already show equal ability to both run and pass block. Not to mention dudes who could put a serious dent in your local All You Can Eat Buffet. Gavin Anderson checks in at Tackle at 6’3” and 299 pounds. Tristan Coy is a 275 pound earth-mover at Guard. Geoff Giles is a compactly built 250 Senior at the other Guard Spot. And Skyler Heatherly brings athleticism and nastiness to the mix as a mobile 215 pounder on the edge. Add in 230 pound Junior Center Prospect Ryan Tungate and the Wolves profile more like a CS8 team, rather than a WIVC Squad up front. Mike Giles has to find a Tight End her to fill in for Peebles and will like choose from Ty Krammer, a nifty looking 6’2” 195 pound Sophomore or Conner Heatherly. The Wolves certainly pose the ability to push people around up front. And that ability to be physical with opponents in the trenches plays nicely with Kodiak Rogers skill set at the primary ball carrier. Rogers is poised to radically increase his usage this season over the 110 carries he garnered in 2017 and considering his 7.5 yards per carry average a season agowould loom as a nice speculative buy for easy stats for your Tri-State High School Football Fantasy League. If he doesn’t double up on the 849 rushing yards and eight ground touchdowns he produced a year ago, I’ll will be stunned. This is a kid who is incredibly sudden for his size and tremendously difficult to wrestle to the ground given his leg strength and his tremendous volition. He’s also a very deft receiver out of the backfield when so needed. So expect the run/pass balance of the Wolves offense to perhaps skew more ground bound than it did a year ago. But considering the hard charging nature of the back in question, that’s probably a good thing.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: With so many variables in play, particularly on a defense that ran porous at times at full strength in 2017 (26 ppg against) this is a really hard team to draw a bead on in the preseason. Just so many ifs/maybes to contend with to feel comfortable setting a floor or ceiling here. I can say this however: the Wolves season starts with a high degree of difficulty with a visit from Beardstown and trip to Don Kemp Field as the North/South Cross Over games. If the Wolves come out of that August run at 1-1 or better, I think they can get back into the five/six win range and vie for a playoff return. If they don’t , PH could just as readily bottom out at 3-6. Their journey teeters on a very sharp edge. And in that aspect, this might require one of the best coaching efforts of Mike Giles and Ron Edwards collective career. If the Wolves can steer the narratives of games into their collective strengths, monopolize the football for long periods of time, wear teams out in the process with their size, and limit overall defensive exposure; I think PH/W will be more than okay. If they get caught playing against type or out of tempo/tenor comfort zone, this team doesn’t have the fallback options to compensate. At least not as of this writing in Mid-June. Either way, this feels like a pretty fascinating journey. To be honest, I am totally here for the 2018 star turns of The Rogers Boys and anxious to see how all this new-fangled weaponry bares out.