Senior-heavy Mid-County prepares for opener with Elmwood-Brimfield

Mike Landis, Editor
Mid-County sophomore Cal Clucas stretches during Tuesday’s football practice.

The Mid-County Cougars have some key pieces to replace on the football field, but a deep and talented senior class is ready to rise to the occasion as the 2018 season kickoff nears.

“We’ve got a big senior class and right now we should have some depth,” fourth year Mid-County head coach Gary Denhart said. “We’ve got some competition for some spots and they have accepted that. It’s kind of nice — there’s some nice friendly competition.”

Denhart has 44 players in the program — with nearly half of those coming from the senior class. The Cougars hit the practice field Monday in preparation for their Aug. 24 opener at home with Elmwood-Brimfield.

“There is some talent there,” Denhart said of his seniors. “We have some nice pieces back and have some kids that were very integral parts last year. So far it has just been a lead-by-example group — not a lot of rah-rah — and that’s good.”

“Nobody’s vying for captain votes. They are just out leading by example.”

The Cougars are coming off a 4-5 campaign. The playoff carrot was dangling until the final game of the season when M-C fell on the road at Stark County. To duplicate the postseason berth of 2016, Denhart has to replace what he refers to as last season’s “three-headed monster” — Charlie Gibbons, Lucas Cruz and Bret Woodside.

“As big a group of seniors that we have, we did lose some important parts,” Denhart said.

“It’s about filling those spots, getting the people playing those spots some confidence and just making some adjustments,” he added. “Those three (Gibbons, Cruz, Woodside) made some things easy for us.”

Denhart labeled his team’s summer preparation as “good,” then paused for a moment and switched that to “average.”

“I tried to do more than I normally do,” Denhart said. “I’ve done the same thing in the summer for 17 years, and this year I tried to do a little bit more early and I didn’t see the benefit.”

The “do more” aspect of the summer was focused on running plays, the M-C coach said.

“The state gives us 25 (contact) days and this is the first time I’ve used all 25, and I’m not convinced it was worth it,” Denhart said. “The kids that were here are benefitting from it, but we didn’t get all of them. In the summer, at some point they’ve got to be kids.”

Denhart said last season he really put an emphasis on throwing the ball a little bit more, and that didn’t develop as well as he hoped. Behind returning quarterback Jake Varner, the Cougars will again strive to find some success through the air.

“I would like to be more balanced and be able to throw the ball a little bit more,” Denhart said.

The Week 1 order is a tall one as the Cougars host perennial Class 3A playoff qualifier Elmwood-Brimfield in their first of two crossover games with the Prairieland Conference.

Elmwood-Brimfield is coming off a 7-3 campaign. The Trojans have qualified for the playoffs 14 of the past 15 seasons and are 61-14 in the last seven seasons.

“Elmwood-Brimfield is going to be quite the opponent to see how we match up,” Denhart said.