BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – You could throw up the adage, there’s no place to go but up for the Fort Madison Bloodhound football team.
Telling stats would include an 0-9 record capped off with a 0-81 dismantling at Washington to cap off last season; an anemic passing game that saw just 12 completions for 117 yards on the year, and only seven touchdowns scored on the year, just to name a few.
But first-year head coach Tony Shiffman feels that may be just a bit disingenuous to a team with decent numbers and a renewed sense of pride and invigoration.
The Hounds, (Class 3A, District 5), kick off the season Aug. 25 at home against Davis County. The game was originally scheduled to be played on the road, but was moved to Fort Madison due to construction on the Davis County football facility.
Shiffman said he’s targeted a 6-3 season and the team is buying into the new program.
“You know… we’ve had some good practices so far. Our numbers aren’t quite what we wanted – not quite what I hoped for, but they’re up,” Shiffman said. “I think we can be a good team this year. I put the target out that we can win six games and I’m sticking to that. We have good athletes and a good senior core.”
That core will be led by Shance Redd-Donald, the team’s only returning 1st Team All-District player. Redd-Donald led the Hounds last year in rushing with 334 yards on 71 carries and three scores. He also led the team in tackles with 33.5, 29 of which were solo tackles mainly in the secondary. He snared three interceptions to lead the Hounds there as well. He will be playing receiver on offense and roam as a free safety in the secondary on defense, Shiffman said.
“Shance is going to be a great player for us. He’s our lone returning All-District player and he was unstoppable in 7-on-7s this summer.”
Senior Alex Gully returns from a campaign where he carried the ball 72 times for 168 yards. Shiffman said Gully will be the featured back in a spread offense this year.
“Alex is gonna be our workhorse. He’s had a great off-season, a great summer, and a great start to fall camp. We’re gonna run a spread and he’ll get the bulk of the carries,” Shiffman said.
Junior Lennon Barker was third on the team in carries as a sophomore last year with 57 yards on 37 attempts, mostly from the quarterback spot. Shiffman said Barker will, in all likelihood, be the signal caller this year. But Will Larson, who’s just a freshman, is geared up to step in should something happen with Barker.
“It’s probably gonna be Lennon, he’s a junior, but Larson is our backup who’s a freshman and has come a long way. If something drastic were to happen to Lennon, knock on wood it doesn’t, I’m very comfortable with Will going in and managing the game.”
Lorenzo Riles led Fort Madison in receiving with four receptions for 45 yards as a junior last year.
Senior Elijah Barnes is returning to football and will anchor the offensive and defensive line.
Shiffman said Barnes has stepped in and had an immediate impact on leadership for the team as well as picking up offensive and defensive schemes quickly.
“Elijah Barnes is out for the first time since, I think, his freshman year. He’s really taken a big leadership role and he’s somebody who has impressed the coaches, a lot of other people, and done great stuff on the offensive and defensive sides of the line.”
Dalton Mabeus and Tyler O’Tool, both returning seniors, had 31 tackles last year each and O’Tool had two sacks on the year. Riles and Gully each had 27 tackles. Diego Lozano had 12 tackles as a freshman last year including a sack.
“Defensively, we’re flying around and we’ve got a lot of guys back on that squad,” Shiffman said. “That can be good and bad because they gave up a lot of points last year. But I’ve got a great staff working there and the kids are doing some good things. We’re learning things quickly and picking up on the defense. They’re gonna get us the ball and make some stops.”
He wasn’t ready to name starting defensive spots yet because there is still time to get a better look at personnel and with a scrimmage coming up against Mediapolis, things should settle in after that.
Shiffman said he’d like to get out of the gate with a couple of wins and show not only the team, but also the community, that times are changing.
“It’s a matter of getting them out and getting some success and letting them feel that success,” Shiffman said.
Looking into district play, Shiffman said the district is very competitive.
“We’ve got Osky (Oskaloosa), Fairfield, West Burlington, Solon….Keokuk. It’s a tough district and we’re gonna have a good test early opening with Davis County and Central Lee. Then we go to Osky and that will be a tough one, but it will help answer a lot of questions about how good our players are,” Shiffman said.
West Burlington-Notre Dame just voted two weeks ago to allow Danville to join the program which infused just over 20 players into the program.
“That hurts us a bit, but that helps them a lot. It’s always nice when you get good participation from your co-op,” he said.
Junior A.J. Nolting will be doing the kicking for the Hounds. Nolting was 3-of-5 kicking PATs last year as a sophomore and 0-for-1 in field goal tries.
The buzz in the community is something Shiffman said he’s been picking up on and he hopes that transitions into big crowds for the games.
“I’ve heard about the excitement from other people and that’s what’s great about having six home games. We get to open up Aug. 25th at home and we’d love to have a packed house so they can see the product on field. They need to see we’re turning a corner. I talk about the kids buying in, but it would be great if the community bought in as well.”
As far as the kids buying into the program, Shiffman said he’d still like to see more numbers.
“One of the tough things is to get some of the kids in the school who look at this program and say, ‘Oh, they’re terrible’. We need those kids to come out and help the program. They’re just making too many excuses. They need to see what’s going on..that this is a different brand, and a different era.”