The Wauseon football team returned to the postseason last year after struggling in 2016, making the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. They will be looking to make their fifth trip to the playoffs under head coach Travis Cooper, and if all goes well, win a Northwest Ohio Athletic League title.
“I’ve really liked the way that our kids have practiced and the attendance,” said Cooper. “But, it’s always scary when you have to replace an Everett Bueter and an Owen Newlove, Hunter Yackee, Dawson Rupp and those guys. So there is a lot of question marks at this point.”
The Indians will undergo the most change on the offensive side of the ball. They will be replacing their quarterback, an All-Ohio running back, and an all-league and all-district receiver.
Gone for the Indians are Bueter (first team All-NWOAL, first team all-district, honorable mention All-Ohio), Newlove (first team All-NWOAL, second team all-district), Cam Sauber (first team All-NWOAL, first team all-district), Yackee (first team All-NWOAL, second team all-district), Rupp (second team All-NWOAL, first team all-district) and Junior Martinez.
At quarterback, Wauseon will turn to sophomore Connar Penrod. The 6’1”, 175-pound athlete did earn a letter while playing mostly special teams last season, but now will be in charge of the entire offense.
“I see a little bit of Ty Suntken in him. In his demeanor,” said Cooper, referring to Wauseon’s QB from the 2013 team that reached the postseason. “Which can also be a weakness at times because, he’s confident. He’s got a confidence about him that he can pretty much do anything. And so sometimes it gets the best of him – his decision making. But he’s also a sophomore. We know as a staff that we’re gonna have to deal with some youthful mistakes from our youthful guys out there. But Connar’s done a really, really good job so far.”
Last season was Xavier Torres’ first taste of varsity action, however, he made it count. The senior running back was named honorable mention all-league in 2017.
He returns, along with fellow senior Joey Shema who will share the load in the backfield. “Joey Shema I think can be a really good running back in our league,” noted Cooper. “He is fast, he’s explosive, he is a big kid, he’s got a great motor. He is probably our spark plug for our team. He’s the emotional spark plug.”
Other notable returnees are Trevor Rodriguez (first team All-NWOAL, first team all-district, second team All-Ohio), Miguel Gomez (second team All-NWOAL), Zeb Smith (honorable mention All-NWOAL), Sean Brock and Noah Tester. Both Brock and Tester are coming off injuries which sidelined them for the entire 2017 campaign.
It all starts up front for the Indians, both offensively and defensively.
“We got a lot of depth on our line which is nice,” said Cooper. “Defensively especially, where you can rotate and keep those guys fresh and they can get after the quarterback. Miguel Gomez was a second team all-league (defensive tackle) that we are looking for big things from him. And like I said, Trevor’s a special kid. He’s one of probably the most skilled big men that we’ve had for quite some time. I’m hoping he can stay healthy, because I think he can have a special year.”
Quality line play is the team’s biggest strenghth, according to Cooper.
“Our biggest strength is gonna be our returning fronts,” he said. “It’s kind of flipped from last year. We had question marks up front and we were worried about controlling the line of scrimmage. We should, with the guys that we have returning, do a much better job of that. And to be honest, I would take that over an experienced skill set and a green line. Because, in our league if you can’t take care of the line of scrimmage you’re fighting a losing battle.”
The Indians were once again pegged as a top team in the NWOAL by their peers at the preseason coaches meeting earlier this month. They were picked second behind Liberty Center.
The Wauseon coach is hopeful his squad can live up to the expectations.
“Every year you hope to find that mix. The team that gels and their skill sets kind of mesh with each other,” said Cooper. “Because there’s other times where, you have the same collective skill but it just doesn’t match up. Us as coaches, that’s our job is to kind of figure out the best combination and the right recipe with the ingredients that we have.”
Wauseon hosts Fairview to begin the season Friday.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010