By KRIS MILLS – email@example.com
There is no doubt about it. The Shelbyville football players are buying in.
Although obviously still a work in progress, first-year SHS head football coach Michael Clevenger is building his own culture. The Golden Bears, with practically an entire new roster, are eager to reap the results of their labor in Week 1 Friday at home against Greensburg.
“Probably the biggest thing was just getting the kids to hold themselves accountable,” Clevenger said, who was the head coach at Clinton Prairie the last two seasons. “Our culture is accountability and dependability.”
Bu, on the field, what will be the biggest changes from last season’s team?
Offensively, the team will remain in the spread offense but, judging from its scrimmage with Rushville, will look to be deceptive with its formations and timing. Simply put, the SHS offense should have more pace.
“Really, it is the same principes (offensively). We run a spread style offense,” Clevenger said. “They (last year) probably threw the ball around a little more than I have in the past. When you look at football on Saturdays, if you pay attention to Auburn or Clemson, our offense is very similar. We take advantage of the numbers the defense gives us, but we still want to hang our hat on running the ball.”
Defensively, with its speed, the team will switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. In a 3-4, players are given more freedom to make plays. It should also help Shelbyville’s inexperienced players become accustomed to the varsity level.
“The reason for that is to put more athletes on the field,” Clevenger explained. “The game is changing. Guys want to get more skill players on the field. Our defensive line is pretty big, too, all over 250 pounds.”
Junior quarterback Landon Watson returns to lead the offense after a breakout sophomore campaign. He threw for 1,587 yards and 20 touchdowns (13 interceptions) last season. He has added weight to his frame in the offseason and chopped .20 seconds off his 40-yard dash time. At the scrimmage against Rushville last Friday, Watson, who stands 6-foot-3 now after a growth spurt, looked in command of the offense.
He said Clevenger has brought a different type of energy to the program.
“He is excited about everything, he gets us going in a certain way that I like,” Watson said. “I think I will run the ball more this year. I have been in the weight room with Royce Carlton.”
Senior Payton Smith is the other lone starter returning to the offense. His play will be key, Clevenger said, as the team breaks in nine new starters on that side of the ball. Senior Damon Lux led SHS last season with over 1,200 rushing yards (12 touchdowns) and was known to catch passes as a wide receiver, as well.
Junior running backs Jordan Vinson and Collin Miltz and wide receivers Matt Merritt, Riley Stephens, Ethan Bohman and Dom Wilman are players to keep an eye on as they look to make an impact. Wilman (6-3) and Merritt are seniors and Bohman and Stephens are juniors. Vinson and Black each scored a touchdown against the Lions in the scrimmage. Stephens should also make a difference in the return game.
On the offensive line, Smith moves from center to right guard. Junior Trevor File, senior Austin Skaggs (center), junior Deondre Gossett and freshman Bryce Shelton will fight in the trenches for the Golden Bears.
“I think Peyton has played every position on the offensive line and has been a three-year starter,” Clevenger said.
Junior Travis Hartwell returns with the most experience on the defense after recording 59 tackles at the linebacker position in 2017. He has good size (6-3, 185) and speed and should mix well with the rest of the linebackers in Clevenger’s 3-4 defense.
Jet Kolls, Isaiah Holton and Mason Lasure will play alongside Hartell, while seniors Kaleb Barrett and Jacob Smith and junior Nathan Headlee will man the defensive line.
At the corner positions will be junior Anthony Rigdon and senior Hayden Smith. Junior Elijah Sims will be the strong safety with senior Trenton Hall starting at free safety. One common theme among all the aforementioned players? Speed.
Hall, according to Clevenger, is a kid who has earned his time. He spent the last three seasons playing on the junior varsity squad.
“He sticks out in my mind and came to everything this summer,” Clevenger said. “He is an emotional leader and has picked up on a lot of stuff. It is awesome to see him turn into a heck of a football player.”
Added Hall: “I just want to do anything I can for my team.”
Senior kicker Tim Clark returns to lead the special teams unit. He finished 7-for-7 on PAT’s in three games before an injury last season and kicked a game-winning field goal against Franklin Community.
The team’s motto over the summer and to begin the season has been #sWINgtheax. That is for game days. Monday through Thursday, Shelbyville’s goal is to sharpen that ax. Now, it is time to swing it.
“If you ever chop down a tree, it takes a lot of work,” Clevenger said. “You have to sharpen your ax and perfect your craft. You have to prepare. The kids really seem to like it.”
What to expect in Week 1
Greensburg uses deception with its run game to keep opposing defenses off balance. The Golden Bears handled it well last season, earning a 31-10 win.
Watson made his quarterback debut against the Pirates, finishing with 146 yards and a touchdown. Damon Lux was unstoppable on the ground, rushing for 162 yards and three touchdowns, while Sam Lewis finished with 134 receiving yards and a score.
Returning for Greensburg, according to MaxPreps.com, is senior quarterback Bryce McCullough and senior running back Joey Woods. McCullough played in 10 games last season and spent most of his time handing the ball off to his backs. Woods was a dual threat as a junior, finishing with 398 rushing and 188 receiving yards (nine total touchdowns).
The Pirates were 5-7 overall last season.
“I think their conference of football (same as Rushville) is tough and physical, they are coming out to take you to work,” Clevenger said. “We have to match their physicality and emotion.”
Former Shelbyville head coach Pat Parks will be honored Friday in between the first and second quarters for his dedication to the program. Parks led SHS to a 7-3 record in 2017.
John Harrell’s website is predicting SHS to win, 35-28.
Notes: Assistant coaches this season include returnees Rex Olds and Luke Stout and newcomers Michael Bennett, Isaac Sliger, Grant Kleinsteiber, Brian Southern, Josh Teague and Drew Medsker.
Kris Mills is the Sports editor of The Shelbyville News. Follow Kris on Twitter @KrisMills37.
Greensburg at Shelbyville
GAME TIME: 7 p.m., McKeand Field.
COACHES: Scott Moore, 52-52 in 11th year at Greensburg. Michael Clevenger, 0-0 in 1st year at Shelbyville, 11-10 in 3rd year overall.
2017 SAGARIN RATINGS: Shelbyville, 54.46, 123rd overall, 32nd in 4A. Greensburg, 43.43, 170th overall, 29th in 3A.
SERIES LAST 30 YEARS: Shelbyville, 17-4.
LAST MEETING: Shelbyville, 31-10, Aug. 18, 2017.