MORRISON – The Mustangs’ success on the track last spring, which yielded a state berth, could translate over to the gridiron this fall.
The Morrison football team, coming off a 2-7 record, will likely turn to junior Nate Helms at the quarterback spot after he turned in servicable production after aprubtly stepping into the role last season due to an injury.
But the Mustangs, true to their mascot, boast speed. And they plan on using it a lot this season.
Morrison head coach Ryan Oetting has a fleet of track and field stars that will carry the ball this season, a group that is four or five guys deep, which could serve as a luxury as to keep every ball carrier fresh.
Keegan Anderson, Nathan Mickley, Nick Allen and Hunter Newman (all of which helped hoist Morrison to a collective fourth-place finish at the Illinois High School state track and field meet on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in May) will each see the ball.
“[Keegan] Anderson has a lot of speed and has worked really hard in the weight room, he’s gotten bigger, he’s gotten stronger so we are hoping for things out of him,” Oetting said.
Plus, the speedsters have an experienced cast in the trenches, many of which have proven their skill against the talented tacklers that line up in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference every Friday night.
“We are going to be similar to what we were last year,” Oetting said. “We are probably going to run 65 percent of the time... we are still going to be a run-heavy team but we still have the ability to throw, which is nice.”
Oetting says the offensive line will primarily be comprised of seniors and juniors, and fullback Riley Wilkens brings a sense of leadership to both sides of the ball.
A look at last season’s 2-7 record isn’t exactly a fair representation of the team’s output. Morrison lost three games by one score or less, including gut-wrenching defeats by two points to Fulton (14-12) and Riverdale (9-7) in back-to-back weeks in late September.
Not to mention the team’s starting senior quarterback Jacob Schlegel sustained a season-ending injury in the Week 5 Wooden Shoe Bowl rivalry contest. The Mustangs went 0-4 the rest of the season.
Despite the winless finish, Helms was solid in relief under center. Then a sophomore, he threw for over 400 yards and five touchdowns, an experience boost Oetting hopes eases the transition into his first full varsity season as quarterback.
“He came in halfway last year and kind of got thrown under fire there but he performed well,” Oetting said. “He really performed well as a sophomore so we hope that catapults him into his junior year.”
Morrison’s defensive unit was porous at times last season, especially against the TRAC heavyweights like Hall, Newman Catholic, Orion and Rockridge, who each scored 35 points or more against the Mustangs.
This year, though, could prove to be different on the defensive side of the ball. Morrison started a string of sophomore and juniors in key positions a season ago, a group that will develop into upperclassmen this fall.
Oetting feels optimistic about that side of the ball, a unit that will be anchored by linebackers Isaak Shetler and Mickley.
“Defense, we kind of struggled last year but we started a lot of juniors and a couple sophomores so I think that experience will make us much improved,” Oetting said. “I hope that this year we are the team that has that experience.”
Morrison will open the season with a trip to Peru to take on St. Bede at 7 p.m. Aug. 30.