ADAMS — South Jefferson football coach Pat Conners is a pragmatist as far as this year’s Spartans are concerned.
He knows that because of low numbers again, he’ll have a lot of players going both ways on offense and defense. And he is painfully aware that an injury or two to key players can derail the season quickly.
But on the flip side, the fourth year head man welcomes back one of the most talented and experienced clubs in his tenure. And that barring some unfortunate circumstances, the Spartans “can and should” battle for a Section 3 playoff spot.
“That’s not unrealistic,” said Conners, whose club went just 3-6 overall a year ago and only 1-5 in the rugged Class B East conference. “Our goal every season is to make sectionals and this time I truly believe we’ve got a shot. The coaching staff thinks so, and the kids have become believers. Now, we just have to show it on the field.”
It helps that Conners welcomes back most of his starting offense, including 10 of 11 starters. Among that group is quarterback Adam Hutchinson, leading rusher Dylan Beckstead, leading receiver Austin Robare and four of his five starting lineman.
South Jefferson scored 205 points a year ago, and with an experienced group, figures to do better than that this time.
“Last year we really came together toward the end of the season, and we hope to build on that,” said Hutchinson, a senior who passed for 1,220 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013. “We’ve worked hard in the offseason and have had a good turnout at camps and training sessions. So there’s no reason we can’t make the playoffs.”
Beckstead, a junior, was the workhorse a year ago, gaining 1,501 yards rushing (1,109) and receiving (392). But this year, with three other capable runners in Brandon Dibble, Alex Sharlow and speedster Tristan Richards, Conners hopes to spread the ball around a little more and keep his backs fresh.
“The last couple years, we’ve had some selfish players,” Beckstead said. “But this year, there’s a lot more teamwork and extra motivation to make the playoffs. I think it’s really going to help us be a better team.”
So much so that Conners is stressing the word “loyalty” when he speaks of this group. “We’ve got a really good core of kids who were 6-1 two years ago on junior varsity,” he said. “So they know what is best for the team and what it takes to be successful.”
Defensively, South Jefferson will be led by a pair of standout junior linebackers in Eric Mullin, the leading tackler a year ago with 73 stops, and Sharlow, who finished second with 70.
Senior lineman Ryan Haynes said, “This team is a lot closer that last year’s team. We’re playing for each other now, and that’s a big difference.”
SOUTH JEFFERSON SPARTANS
2013 record: 3-6, 1-5 Class B East.
Coach: Pat Conners (4th year, 8-17).
Players to watch: Adam Hutchinson (Sr., QB/S); Austin Robare (Jr., WR/DB); Dylan Beckstead (Sr., RB/DB); Brandon Dibble (Sr., RB/DB); Eric Mullin (Sr., RB/LB); Alec Sharlow (Jr., RB/LB); Ryan Haynes (Sr., OL/DL); Bryce Berie (So., RB/DB).