BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The intensity is palpable on the Fort Madison High School football practice field during this third day of official practice.
Shouting of missed assignments, dropped balls and wrong steps echo off the north side taupe brick of the high school building. Repetition….repetition….repetition. A three-drill session wraps up a helmet and shoulder pad day with heavy clapping, encouragement, a 20-minute cool down exercise and a directed ice bath.
Summer camps are over and this is the real deal. Toward the end of the day, the first team was forced into a second consecutive session of offensive hash drills, because the 2nd team lolligagged onto the field sending head coach Tony Shiffman and Defensive Coordinator Luke Rickelman over the top demanding the second team stand on the sidelines and think about why they’re second team.
This second edition of Shiffman’s Bloodhounds is better prepared he said at this point, than the Hounds were last year in the retooled system.
“Believe it or not we’re light years ahead of where we were last year,” Shiffman said after the practice. “Everybody’s last year was so new, going from a double wing, single wing look to a spread. This year we’re furthering the spread along.”
In the skill positions, the Hounds will replace first-team all district back Alex Gully who rushed for a record 1,355 yards and 7.1 yards per carry. Junior Diego Lozano will be a workhorse out of the backfield. Lozano’s season was cut short with a shoulder injury last year, and Shiffman said there’s a handful of other backs that will slide in and get playing time.
“We’ve got a situation right now where we have five people that can carry the load for us. Calem Maclearn, Brock Kalif, Kali Maestro, and Keaton Poe, Diego is about the same size as all of them combined, but they’re doing a good job and running hard and we’ve got some guys that are putting in the effort.”
Lennon Barker will be back under center for his senior year. Barker threw for over 1200 yards and fired 13 touchdowns last year after moving in from a running back slot as a sophomore in the wing-style offense.
“We’re trying to get him to be a better leader. He’s got his ups and downs and its a lot more ups than downs.”
FMHS will rely on senior Sheymouhr Redd-Donald downfield as Shiffman is set to ramp up the spread even more than he did last year, where Shance Redd-Donald caught nine touchdowns.
“Shey has been doing a great job so far being a leader and he’s going to be great receiver for us,” Shiffman said.
Quentin Schneider, Dominic Frantz, Romeo Maestro, newcomer Brandon Keester and others will look to help field the void left by five seniors who had catches last year for the Hounds.
On the line Sam Hayes, Alex Lauber and Alec Craft will anchor the play inside. The Hounds lost first team all district tackle Elijah Barnes and second-team Dalton Mabeus to graduation.
“Sam Hayes is back on the offensive line and he’s coming back as a starter for us. Unfortunately both our offensive and defensive lines are very similar. We’ve got some
playmakers and we’ve got good guys in good spots, we just don’t have a lot of depth there,” Shiffman said.
He said offensively the Hounds will push the spread and take advantage of some speed again this year.
“We’re going to go a little more true spread this year than with a fullback and try to use every inch of the field as much as we can and take advantage of that,” he said.
On defensive, Shaymouhr was a second-team all district as a defensive back and Nick Carter is back in the corner. The Hounds lost Tyler O’Tool at linebacker, but Shiffman said he’s happy with the depth there.
“Our defensive line is about the same as our offensive line so we’ve got a few guys that can fit in here and there. Sheymouhr was 2nd team all-district and he’s back. Nicky started for us most of the year at corner and he’s back. We’ve got good numbers and depth there, again, and we’ve finally got some linebackers. We were very thin at inside linebacker last year. We’ve got some young guys that can step in and play when needed this year.”
AJ Nolting will be handling the place kicking again for the Hounds. Nolting was 18 of 22 in PATs last year with one field goal on one attempt for 21 yards.
Shiffman said although the team has some athletes, and teaching systems and assignments has been easier this second year, only the players can determine how successful the season will be.
“We’re only as good as these kids wanna be,” Shiffman said. “I can be the best coach in the world, Derek (Doherty) can be the best coach in the world, Luke (Rickelman) can be the best coach in the world but if the kids don’t want to be great, we won’t be great. That’s the big thing we’re trying to convey to them is that it’s on them. They’ve got to be the ones that want to do it.”
Some new faces that will have an impact this year include junior Mike Mosena, senior Brandon Keester and junior Jayden Fedler. Junior Jace Burgher played as a freshman and is back after skipping his sophomore year. Brock Kalif, Kali Maestro and Keaton Poe will also contribute.
Shiffman said Fedler is a special kid who will work his way into the lineup.
“Fedler just has to get polished. He had a frustrating morning. He doesn’t understand it’s only day three for him. He does some things with his hands that you just can’t teach. He does some good stuff. You watch him – he doesn’t realize how good he can be.”
Shiffman was making no predictions this year. Last year he said he was projecting a winning season in his first year and the Hounds just
missed at 4-5.
“We’re looking to go 1-0 against Central Lee in Week 1,” he said. “I kind of put my foot in my mouth about that last year, so we’re looking to go 1-0 week 1. That’s all we’re doing right now.”
The Hounds start the regular season on Aug. 24 in Donnellson. Last year’s affair was high scoring with the Hounds winning a 56-35 shootout at Richmond Stadium.