Archive for August 22, 2014

TAYLOR FOOTBALL: DENNIS BENTZLER RETURNS (AGAIN) TO THE HELM OF A STRUGGLING PROGRAM

Football - Taylor

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Football, like most sports, can be a game of streaks. Unfortunately for the Taylor Titans, they are on the wrong end of a long streak – a 26-game losing streak dating to Sep. 15, 2011. After a pair of winning seasons in 2007 and 2008, the Titans have lost 46 of its last 51 contests on the gridiron. But the good thing about losing streaks is they will eventually come to an end, and the Titans are confident that they have made great strides in becoming competitive on Friday nights.

But before taking the field, they had to overcome a major setback. Four days into the 2014 Taylor High School football season, football head coach Eric Davis shocked the program by stepping down. Davis announced he accepted the head coaching position at Tri-County High School in White County, where he will also teach.

Girls basketball head coach and former football coach Dennis Bentzler, for the second time in his career, agreed to take over the program on an interim basis. While serving as the defensive coordinator in 2001, the Taylor graduate stepped-up to lead the program after the resignation of Tim Week’s. Bentzler led that squad to a 3-7 record after previous seasons of 1-9 and 2-8. Following his one-year stint, the Titans won two games over the next three years under Glenn Humerickhouse. With a long losing streak, Bentzler is ready to point the program in the right direction.

“Bottom line is, my family moved here in 1961 and we all graduated from Taylor – it is what I love,” said Bentzler. “Now, it is all about the kids and the community. It upsets me that people look down on Taylor. We have good hearts. We have lost some values for the kids and the school. I just couldn’t say no.”

Bentzler said on the first day he arrived at practice, only 18 kids were suited up. For last Friday’s scrimmage, 42 proudly wore the Titans helmet.

“We have some good athletes, but the program is where it’s at and I told the coaches this is going to be a learning experience for everybody,” he said. “I will take the heat, but I have challenged the kids to take on some responsibility. They seem very receptive and loose, and I think we will be competitive this year. As for wins and losses, I don’t know. But if we can do what we did in 2001, people will be happy. We will get the program pointed in the right direction.”

One thing that has changed in the last two weeks is the attitude of the players. Not only have the numbers increased drastically since Bentzler took over the program, but so has the motivation level.

“We have kids on board now, and I am not sure that was the case before,” said Bentzler. “We installed some discipline and it seems to be taking hold. We have guys that want to work like Dante Campbell and Darian Stone. And Parker VanMetre said, ‘Coach, I’ve got this.’ So he is now a speaking captain and senior leader on this team. Heck, Campbell may be one of the best running backs in the area. James Bell at 6-4 and 245 pounds and Tyler Howard who is a sophomore and Donovan Renbarger who is 6-7 – they are all ready to play football. I am just excited about the new culture we have and really don’t want to single anyone out.”

The Titans are under a new regime, of sorts. With Bentzler under the helm once again, Taylor should start moving in a positive direction. And with any luck, one of the longest losing streaks in Indiana could come to an end this season.

NORTHWESTERN FOOTBALL: YOUNG SQUAD LOOKS TO EARN STRIPES QUICKLY

Football - Northwestern

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

KOKOMO, Ind. – Last year, the Northwestern Tigers football team entered the season with 25 seniors on its roster. One year later, that means there are a lot of holes to fill in a program that has won a respectable 15 games over the last two seasons. But head coach John Hendryx is excited about the season because he feels this year’s Purple Pride is very athletic.

“I liked what I saw in the scrimmage – I thought we ran the ball well and we are pretty athletic,” he said. “We are not as big as we have been in the past, but we are athletic up and down the line. Even our defensive linemen are able to run. And offensively, we are better pass blockers since we are longer and taller. It is a different mix: we have baseball players, swimmers, golfers, basketball players; just different kinds of kids than we have had in the past.”

Hendryx said the program had a great summer of workouts, which has helped with the enthusiasm around the team.

“With 25 kids graduating, we have had a lot of kids waiting to get their turn,” said Hendryx. “They are excited and they are ready. It is their time to play and I think they will come out and get better every week.”

The better pass blocking offensive line Hendryx eluded to – led by pre-season all-state selection Jake Vent – will come in handy now that sophomore signal-caller Trey Richmond has a year of experience under his belt. The 6-3, 210-pound quarterback turned heads as a freshman when he completed 58 passes for 702 yards and seven touchdowns.

“We will throw the ball a little more this year and we have about five kids he can throw to,” said Hendryx. “We have a good group of skilled players. Kids like (junior) Keron Hellum, (sophomore) Noah Aaron, (senior) Ethan Dubbels and (senior) Blake Oakley will share duties at wing – they all do something unique and we will use that.”

Austin Miller, Riley Hudson, Tommy Yeager, Ryan Cavazos and Grey Longshore will make up the receiving corps. Hendryx will play three fullbacks, led by junior Tim Blankenburger who returns as the leading rusher at 153 yards last season. He will be joined by seniors Cole Cook and Austin Pyle.

“We won’t have the Michael Plummer like we did last year; we won’t have someone that can carry 25 times a game,” said Hendryx. “We have had those types of guys in the past, but this year the offense will be spread out.”

Experience does return on the defense, as Derek Doubet (26 tackles last year), Caleb Tackett (36 tackles) and Jake Vent (34 tackles) return to a much more agile defensive line. Dubbels (47 tackles) and Hullum (23 tackles) return to the secondary.

“We are going to do some different things defensively, and I think the kids like it,” said Hendryx. “We are going to be more active with our additional speed. It should be fun.”

One big change for Northwestern is the allowance of players to play two sports at once. Thus, Blaine Brutus will come over from the soccer team to handle kicking duties for the first time.

Northwestern is always in the thick of the Mid-Indiana Conference battle, and 2014 should be no different. And with an experienced quarterback and more speed on the line, this could be a special year for the Purple Pride.

EASTERN FOOTBALL: BYERS AND BATES RETURN TO LEAD HIGH-POWERED OFFENSE

Football - Eastern

BY DEAN HOCKNEY

GREENTOWN, Ind. – Last year, Eastern Comet football fans had high hopes of a solid season with a returning quarterback and breakout runner. But in game two, 1,100-yard rusher Papee Byers was injured and the Comets never seemed to get on track. Fast forward one year and Byers is healthy for his junior campaign and signal-caller Austin Bates is ready for his senior season.

“We had a great summer with no injuries,” said head coach Josh Edwards, who led the team to a 7-3 record in 2011. “That is exciting and we are ready to go.”

One drawback to the Comets in 2014 is the ever-present decline of the number of players – 42 players dot the roster, but 17 of those are freshmen and another seven are sophomore. That leaves only 12 seniors on the roster – with one being Bates.

“The simplicity of our system works,” said Edwards. “New kids can come in and learn.”

Bates, a 6-4 quarterback, completed 142 of 270 passing attempts last year, good for 1,992 yards and 17 touchdowns. With Byers down, Bates also led the team in rushing to the tune of 537 yards and eight scores. Senior Cree Johnston had 41 catches for 565 yards last year, and at 6-0, will be a big returning target for Bates. He will also have a pair of 6-2 receivers in Scott Mullenix and Taylor Tattersal.

“This will be Austin’s third year starting,” said Edwards. “Since game five of his sophomore year he has shown continual improvement. As we know, consistency at the quarterback position is the key to an offense.”

According to Edwards, Byers’ return to the lineup, both on offense and defense, will be a major key component.

“It is huge; he is our spark,” said the coach. “He always has a smile on his face but he is as intense of a player as there is. He obviously can change a football game on offense, but what most people don’t realize is he is better on defense. He is the guy on defense that has a nose for the ball. He will change our defense; we just have to keep him healthy.”

Edwards said with the return of an experienced defense, he expects vast improvements over a year ago.

“We lost Braden Gibson and Will Porter on defense, but we are really excited about what is returning this year,” said Edwards. “We should see some huge improvements, most of that due to the maturity. We played quite a few sophomores last year, and they are bigger and stronger this year.”

Evan Ellis, Brett Bachman, Gaven Cox and Austin Rogers are slated to make up the defensive line with Grant Hendryx and Jared Huggins vying for time. Mullenix and Andrew Turner will line up at outside linebacker spots, while Byers and Tattersall will man the middle. Mullenix and freshman Otis Smith will also see time at the middle linebacker position while Bates and Ross Smith will play corners.

Edwards admits the final year of the Mid-Indiana Conference will be tough.

“I admit, it is bittersweet,” he said. “It is the conference I played in and a lot of people in Greentown played in it. This will be a cool year – hopefully some special memories will be built because of it.”

The Comets may be among the youngest teams in Howard County, but with the youth comes optimism for the future. The future looks bright for Eastern, especially with the return of two key position players.