It’s been two long years since the Henlopen South title belonged to the Indians. In a few short weeks, that’s a streak that this year’s re-focused Indian River High School football squad will set out on a path to snap.
Despite a disappointing 4-6 season in 2016, the division and ensuing automatic playoff bid had remained in reach until a late-season loss to eventual South champions Lake Forest (8-2, 6-0).
After reloading with a talented freshman class and some key contributors ready to step up for their senior campaigns, however, second-year head coach Phil Townsend is hopeful that his squad’s new “family” mentality and off-season spent in the weight room will pay dividends when the Friday-night lights finally switch on at Indian River High School football stadium this fall.
“To be honest, this is probably one of the best teams I’ve coached, in terms of behavior and commitment,” said Townsend. “These guys are really meshing as a family — picking each other up when they’re down.”
“Family is our motto. That’s our first thing — we win and lose as a team,” said senior LB/TE and 2016 All-Conference selection Gianni Gottschalk. “This year, we want to win football games. Nobody’s thinking, ‘I want to win football games’ — it’s ‘We want to win football games.’ Everyone’s buying in.”
Gottschalk will help lead a new crop of upperclassmen looking to fill the void left by 14 graduated seniors from 2016, including Blue-Gold selection and All-Conference DE/OG Joey Anderson, All-Conference NT/TE DeAndre Cooper, two-year starter at quarterback Jake Hudson and two-year starter at center Sito Osegueda.
While the roster is still shaping up, with the season-opener against Maryland’s Linganore High School not scheduled until Friday, Sept. 9, here’s a preview of how the depth chart is starting to look:
• QB: With Hudson graduating, five different prospects are vying for the starting spot under center.
Leading the charge after Saturday’s scrimmage against Maryland’s Parkside High School were senior Javonta Briddell, who tallied two rushing touchdowns against the Rams, and junior Brandon Hoffman, who saw snaps as a sophomore on the varsity squad in 2016.
Sophomores David Navarro and Ian Shaner remain in the mix as well, but freshman Jalen Snead also turned some heads in the Parkside scrimmage and could be a serious contender for the starting spot after leading Selbyville Middle School to an 8-0 season as an eighth-grader last year.
• Backfield: Returning to the backfield to again take on the lion’s share of the carries will be senior fullback George “G-Mart” Martin and senior running back Gerald Foreman.
Martin was an All-Conference selection on both offense and at safety in 2016, after racking up 144 carries for 709 yards — a nearly 5-yard-per-carry average — and 12 touchdowns.
Foreman finished with 103 carries for 443 yards, a 4.3-yard-per-carry average and three touchdowns during his junior campaign and will again form a one-two backfield punch with Martin.
The team’s two bell cows will get some help from sophomore running back Reshawn Turner, who showed flashes of electricity in limited action last season, as well as some carries likely going to sophomore Jacob Anderson and freshman Kevin Custis, who led last year’s undefeated SMS squad in rushing.
• WR/TE: Gottschalk returns appearing to be the lone tight end and looking to fill the void left by Cooper, who provided not only a large target over the middle but an effective seal on the outside as an All-Conference selection in 2016.
The team also graduated senior WR Barry Hooper, their primary deep threat. While the position remains one of the season’s larger questions marks, Townsend said that the receiving corps could likely be made of QB candidates not getting the nod under center.
• OL: Departures along the offensive line include not only Osegueda and Anderson but several other starting and situational contributors.
Junior Colin Donoway could find his way to center, and junior Mike Corcoran is also expected to step up on the OL. Several key contributors on last year’s SMS team may also make an impact as early as this season.
“I’m excited about the freshman class that’s coming in,” said Townsend. “We’ve got some skill positions there, but we also have a full freshman line, and they work real well together. They had a lot of success at the middle school.”
• DL: The defensive trenches will also miss Cooper and Anderson, but after earning a starting spot in 2016, Griffin McCormick returns at defensive end, looking to make an even more substantial impact in his senior season.
• LB: The linebacking core looks to be a strength on the defensive side of the ball, with both Gottschalk and senior Zion Howard returning as All-Conference selections on the inside.
Gottschalk racked up 48 tackles, eight assists and two sacks as a junior, with Howard also putting up impressive numbers last season, with 41 tackles, 11 assists and an interception.
While starters at the two outside linebacker positions have yet to be named, Townsend said that Anderson and senior Joey Ciriello could very well round out the group.
• Secondary: With Gunnar Moldrik graduating, Martin is back as the last line of defense and the team’s sole safety, after tallying 25 tackles, 13 assists, one sack, four broken-up passes and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown in 2016.
Foreman joins him at corner, after also returning a fumble for a TD and breaking up six passes last season. Turner will likely see the starting spot at corner opposite Foreman, after earning significant playing time at the position in 2016.
• Special Teams: Back from the soccer team are seniors Mac Smith and Andrew White, who will again suit up for the Indians on Friday nights. Smith will take snaps at punter, with White getting the nod on extra points and field goal attempts.
The roster will continue to shake out through the final pre-season scrimmage, scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 30, at home against St. Georges Tech.
The Indians aren’t scheduled to begin the regular season until Friday, Sept. 9, at home against Linganore.
All home games this season will kick off at 7 p.m.