The Cedarville Indians football roster is down about three players from last season. For most schools that’s inconsequential. For schools like Cedarville it’s an obstacle.
The Indians have 19 players. Coach Jason Christian is hopeful those numbers will rebound to the mid-20s next season with a larger eighth-grade class coming up.
“Last year was tough,” Christian said. “We went 0-10 but we didn’t have any kids quit on us midway through the season or anything. They stuck it out. We try to stay positive with them. Last year I had one kid who was a four-year letterwinner and a bunch of sophomores playing.”
The Indians return eight starters on both offense and defense. That experience could be a boost for a team that has six seniors but only one who has played much.
Cedarville starts its offense under center this season — the Indians worked out of the shotgun last season — with sophomore quarterback Colby Cross. His line is anchored by junior Hunter Nier, sophomore Caleb Harding and sophomore Hayden Lee. Harding and Lee bulked up by about 20 pounds from last season.
Junior Brandon Pollock will see considerable action at running back and receiver.
Nier and Harding also power the defensive line. Lee provides support at linebacker and Pollock backs them up in the secondary.
“We’re still fairly young, but we’re not as young as we were last year,” Christian said. “We’re pretty fast as far as the whole team. The biggest kid on our team is about 225 pounds. We have a lot of kids that move well. They’re not the biggest guys but they can get off the ball.”
Cedarville enters the season looking to snap an 18-game losing streak. The team’s last win was 40-0 against Cincinnati Christian in Week 2 of the 2015 season.
If the Indians need a boost of confidence, Christian can point to their 5-5 season in 2014 and playoff appearance in 2013.
“I told people the first year I started coaching, I think we had 25 kids,” the sixth-year coach said. “Mr. (Jim) Villinger, even when he was coaching, he won a ton of football games with 22 or 23 kids. You have to get them comfortable and knowing what they are doing. Get them to where they’re not thinking and just playing. Try not to overwhelm them with too many plays or formations. That’s what we’re doing a little more this year. Simplify it and go from there. Hopefully they can play faster.”
The schedule is another grind, and it starts with Mechanicsburg. After a Week 2 game with Strasburg-Franklin, a school of similar size, Cedarville takes on West Liberty-Salem and West Jefferson.
The Ohio Heritage Conference split into divisions for this season with the recent additions of Fairbanks, West Jefferson, Madison Plains and Greenon. Cedarville resides in the South Division with Catholic Central, Greeneview, Greenon, Madison Plains and Southeastern.
“There were some games last year — and no coach would ever like to say this — where we knew we weren’t going to beat teams like Mechanicsburg,” Christian said of the Division VI regional finalists. “You try to get small goals. Maybe hold them to 20 points in the first half. Something. Just try to give them a goal and explain to them Mechanicsburg is where we want to be. That’s what we’re working toward.”
A season with a couple of wins could give Christian a boost when recruiting more students to come out for football. But the coach is fine with the players wearing the red and white this season.
“Realistically, if they don’t want to play this game then you probably don’t want them on the field,” Christian said. “We’ve got the 19 we want and that’s what we’re going to go with.
“It’s still football. It should still be a fun game. I tell the kids all the time after you get done with your senior year of football, you don’t ever get to play real football again. There’s a few who do, but for the most part most kids are done. You can go play real basketball, baseball, golf or tennis. Football is one sport where you don’t get to do that again. It’s not fun getting beat 40-0, but you’re still out there playing. We try to keep them upbeat.”