DEWITT – The boys’ side of the Central DeWitt athletic spectrum has enjoyed success in recent years in several sports, especially baseball, golf and basketball.
But what about football?
Prior to last year’s breakthrough, the Sabers turned in three straight seasons of two wins or less. Before that, the program recorded a pair of four-win campaigns to follow up a special 2012 campaign that remained the last time the team has been over .500 for five years.
For whatever reason, Central DeWitt, who proves its athleticism across the diamond, course or hardwood floor through seemingly every calendar year, has shown struggles the last handful of years on the gridiron.
Ryan Streets, who took over the team as head coach prior to last season, helmed the team’s first above .500 win-loss record (5-4) since that 2012 season in which the Sabers stormed all the way to the Class 3A quarterfinals.
Central DeWitt used a potent rushing attack that leaned heavily on now-graduated Easton Necker, who rattled off 1,501 rushing yards, which ranked second in all of Class 3A competition. The Sabers held firm in a talented district that boasts the likes of heavyweights North Scott, Clear Creek Amana and Davenport Assumption, turning in a 2-3 record in league contests and going 3-1 out of the field.
As a result, people are excited. DeWitt is a highly supportive town, one that will not hesitate to show up in bunches to a sporting event. Streets has noticed a palpable shift in attention allocated to the football team, starting from the ground up.
“It [last season’s success] helps a lot with our kids now looking forward to football season,” Streets said. “Our little kids are playing football at recess.”
With the Sabers still deciphering a three-man quarterback race between senior Johnny Samora and juniors Henry Bloom and John McConohy, there is reason to believe the team will choose to maintain its rushing identity, especially with Zach Hinkle returning for his senior year.
While Necker and Devin Hurdle received the bulk of the workload in the backfield, Hinkle still proved to be a threat, rushing for 256 yards on 40 carries (6.4 yards average) with a pair of touchdowns. He also caught eight passes for 90 yards and another score.
“[Zach] Hinkle has a great chip on his shoulder that brings confidence to the our team,” Streets said. “He is a great leader by example at practice always working very hard.”
The Sabers also tout weapons for whoever lines up under center this season in Logan Paulsen and Tucker Kinney. Paulsen is 6-foot-6, offering a tall, agile frame in the aerial attack. He caught 19 passes for 339 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year. Kinney, who is 6-foot-5, only caught four passes last year but is expected to offer more of a presence this fall.
Speaking of Kinney, the Central DeWitt defense could be one of the team’s primary strengths. Kinney anchors the unit after recording 43.5 tackles last season, including a district-leading 15 tackles for a loss. Ethan Pierce (37.5 tackles, 8 for loss) and Matt Roling (31 tackles) are also set to return.
Even so, Streets said he will have to turn to youth to fill out many key spots of the defense, but he still holds confidence in the unit’s potential.
“Our defense we hope is our strength,” Streets said. “We will be inexperienced but have some good physical juniors stepping in.”
Central DeWitt will play an identical schedule as last year with a switch of the home field sites. This fall will mark the Sabers’ second year in District 5, which helps when it comes to preparation.
“It [playing the same opponents last season] helps with scouting and watching film,” Streets said. “Most teams that are good do not switch schemes year in and year out. But there will be some changes with their personnel. Our district is very tough.”
The Sabers will open the season hosting Center Point Urbana at 7 p.m. Aug. 30. Streets says the team is ready to get the season underway.
“The seniors and junior are meshing well so far,” Streets said. “This group is fun to coach an has a great attitude at practice.”
They also are primed for some fun local matchups, the same as last season. They will play district opponent Clinton High School on Oct. 18 at Coan Field, and also travel to Camanche earlier on to take on the Indians in an out-of-district game on Sep. 20