DECATUR — One look at Denim Cook tells the story.
Cook, a sophomore running back and linebacker for St. Teresa, is 5-foot-8, 205 pounds. He's in line to grab the handoffs that once went to running back Jacardia Wright, who will play at Kansas State this season.
Combined with quarterback Jack Hogan, the Bulldogs can still keep a balance of a strong run and pass game, even without Wright.
As a freshman last year, Cook had 210 yards and three touchdowns, mostly playing at running back when the Bulldogs had already built a sizable lead. He was a fixture on the defensive line with 67 tackles and 11 tackles for a loss.
It's a new venture for Cook as the starting varsity running back.
“Trying to learn, trying to do new stuff and trying to pick up where Jacardia left off," Cook said. "I’m pretty excited to be the starting running back."
The high bar set by Wright doesn't bother Cook.
“I manage it because I played running back for a long time," he said. "I know what I’m capable of doing and I know what I can do. I’m ready to play."
Meridian has experience
After a long building process, Meridian football coach Micah Sheppard is finally starting to be able to plug upperclassmen into his starting lineup. Senior quarterback Jacob Jones leads that charge.
Sheppard, though, expects about four or five of his skill players to be sophomores, with a few juniors and a couple seniors sprinkled in the mix. The team is buying into Sheppard, who enters his third year.
“They like what we’re doing," Sheppard said. "They have fun doing it. They feel comfortable with the things that we’re doing and the freedom that we give some of them to just be athletes. A lot of it really falls into maturity on the field and kind of biding our time until we got the right guys into where we need to be. We’re still a couple years away. We’ve got some good incoming classes coming up. That senior group — this will be their third year under our system — has really bought in and understand it."
The sophomore class, in particular, is strong and experienced. There's quarterback Drew Hurelbrink, who will spell Jones at quarterback in different packages. Receiver Lucas Clapp has shown off a strong ability to catch passes and Graham Meisenhelter will add to the running back spot, alongside senior running back Korey Damery.
“We’re excited about the young guys," Sheppard said. "We wish we had a few more guys we could get the lower level games in just to get more game-time experience, but a lot of guys got thrown into the mix last year. Even as sophomores, it’s old hat to them."
Maroa's speed on the outside
Another year, another fast Maroa-Forsyth team. The Trojans have plenty of weapons on the outside for quarterback Wade Jostes and have a power back, who also has some speed, in Bryson Boes.
Receivers Drew Hicks, Cade Culp, Ben Gilbert and Xavier Goetz will present problems for opposing defenses.
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“We feel like we have those parts, for sure, to be able to put it together," coach Josh Jostes said.
Though Maroa does lose some bigger players along the offensive line, the Trojans do return Stone Sowa and Tanner Hetz on the offensive line.
“We’ll figure out enough pieces to be able to move the ball and I expect Jon Kidd and their defense to be really good," Josh Jostes said.
Next man up for Generals
MacArthur has plenty to replace along the defensive line. Gone are Malik Barbee, Tylan Jackson and Demesheo Lovelace to graduation. Head coach Derek Spates knows he has to replace the defensive line that was among the fiercest in the area.
Perhaps there will be some doubt about what the Generals' defense can do, but that's nothing new to Spates.
“We just have a, ‘Next man up’ mentality," Spates said. "Even when (former players Amir and Armon) Brummett left, it was, ‘You can’t win without the Brummetts.’ Now these guys have left and it’s, ‘You can’t win without these guys.’ Our thing is it’s the next man up.
“We’re not in the position where we have a bunch of guys waiting in the wings. It’s just: It’s your time. What are you going to do? We think we’ve got some guys coming back who can help us out."
Offensively, breakout players to watch could be receivers Devin Heise, Omarion Slaw and Courtel Williams.
Stanley getting used to running back
After establishing himself as one of the area's top receivers last season, Makail Stanley is switching to running back.
He had 61 catches for 1,060 yards and 20 touchdowns last year, but is taking over for his brother, Makhi in the backfield. So far, so good for Makail, who also played running back as a freshman.
“It’s just shorter routes and quicker bursts," Makail said. "I knew most of the plays from my freshman year. It’s not that much of a transition. I remember a lot of it."
Has he picked Makhi's brain for tips? Of course.
“I just study people I look up to at that position," Makail said.
ALAH's Otto approaching school record
Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond linebacker Lucas Otto is climbing up the ranks for all-time tackles in program history, coach Ryan Jefferson said.
Otto, a senior, has 213 tackles in three years and had 101 last season. According to Jefferson, Tanner Kingery is the program's all-time leader with 343 tackles from 2001-2004. Logan West (2010-2013) is second with 322 tackles, Corey Dowd (2004-2007) is third with 315, Bradley Vanausdoll (1996-1999) is fourth with 305 and Jordan Downs (2001-2004) is fifth with 300.
Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25