The playoff streak is still intact and now the Columbia Montour Vo-Tech football team wants to get a few more wins to go along with those postseason appearances.
The Rams made their sixth consecutive entry into the District IV AAA playoffs in 2011, but a final record of 3-7 left eighth-year coach Mark Varner with mixed feelings.
“You’re a little disappointed with the season record, but you’re reaching your goals as in making the playoffs and you’re seeing improvement through the kids,” Varner said. “That’s the main thing that you want to see during the year.”
In 2012, the improvement will have to come from a cast of largely new characters. The one area where experience can be found is in the trenches. Senior center Zach Raup and senior right guard Troy Patterson both were starters in 2011.
“We’re going to put a lot of the load on them,” Varner said of his two returning linemen. “They have to be the coaches on the field and if there’s something that happens, they have to make sure these kids don’t get down and they don’t have any carryover to the next play.”
Sophomore Colt Longenberger will start at left tackle, freshman Deion Cupp will hold down the left guard spot, and sophomore Joey Popp will man the right tackle position. Junior Colton Appleman, who caught two touchdown passes in 2011, will play at tight end. Senior Walker Fetterman, who had seven receptions and a touchdown in 2011, is back at split end. Seniors Jesse Keefer and Kyle Neiswender are also expected to see time at wide receiver.
That group will aim to reel in passes from junior Dylan Larkin. The Central Columbia transfer has earned high marks from Varner for the way he’s stepped into the role.
“He’s just a natural leader. He commands the huddle. The kids listen to him,” Varner said. “He’s calm. He doesn’t get antsy back there. Those are the intangibles you can’t teach.”
Larkin will be handing off to an inexperienced backfield unit which includes senior tailback Bobby Christiansen and senior fullback Connor Johnson.
Defensively, Vo-Tech’s greatest experience in their 4-4 formation will come from the front eight. Appleman will line up at defensive end. Across from him, senior Tyler Huntington is expected to take over the starting spot upon return from an undisclosed issue. In Huntington’s place, freshman Connor Gunn will start. The defensive tackles are Patterson and Popp.
Raup will man one inside linebacker position while the other position will be handled by Johnson. Schtechterley, Christiansen and Keefer will also get playing time at the outside linebacker spots.
The secondary features three new starters. Junior Tristan Starr will step into the starting safety role. Neiswender and freshman Nick Williamoski will be the starting cornerbacks.
Williamoski will also be asked to contribute in the return game, both on punts and kickoffs. He will be joined in that responsibility by junior Tylere Temple. Who will step up to handle the kicking and punting duties remains to be determined, according to Varner.
That’s just one area on the field where Varner is looking for his players to rise to the occasion and grow. The coach is confident if his players remain as receptive as they’ve been early, the improvement will be marked and steady.
“Last year, I thought we got better most weeks,” Varner said. “With this young group, I hope that they’re like a sponge and they just want to absorb everything that we’re telling them to and they just get better.”
Vo-Tech first regular season test will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 1 at home against Sayre.