After graduating 12 seniors who all were significant contributors to last year’s team, there is a lot of new in regards to the Logansport football team entering Mike Johnson’s fourth year at the helm.
There will be a lot of new players on the field, and there also will be new coaches calling the offensive and defensive plays. Dan Robinson, a veteran offensive coordinator, is taking over the play calling duties on offense and David Gregorich, who coordinated Pioneer’s last two state championships on defense, will call the defensive plays for the Berries.
“It’s a work in progress. I think we have made some progress,” Johnson said. “I thought in the scrimmage [at Twin Lakes] we moved the ball effectively at times. But depth is going to be a problem for us on both sides of the ball. Our No. 1’s weren’t bad and our second guys just aren’t as familiar with what we’re doing offensively and defensively as what we need to be. But we knew that coming in, that depth was going to be a problem, a lot of new faces. But we thought overall we were pretty happy with the way the scrimmage went and really we’ve been happy with these week of practice. Our guys have done whatever we’ve needed them to do to get ready for this week.”
Garrett Barron (jr, 6-2, 190) returns as the starting quarterback.
“I think he’s made some real progress and I think coach Robinson is happy with him,” Johnson said. “So it’s kind of nice to have a coach who specializes in getting guys ready to throw the ball. Just watching him warmup, he does throw a nice ball. He has made some progress from early in the summer until now. We hope he can connect on Friday night and reap some of the benefits of that hard work that he and coach Robinson have done.”
Josh Manfred (sr, 5-8, 185) will be the starting fullback.
“Josh was our starter last year and had a great opener and was able to play well the first four ballgames until an injury took him out,” Johnson said. “But he’s quick, strong and explosive. He’s a leader for us, works extremely hard. You wish you had about 12 of those guys that had his type of attitude and commitment. But he’s definitely our fullback and we’re expecting big things from him.”
The wingbacks include Drake McLochlin (sr, 6-1, 180), Charlie O’Connor (sr, 5-9, 140) and Evan Vizcarra (sr, 5-11, 185).
“We’ve got three we think are pretty good,” Johnson said. “We think Drake played well in the scrimmage and he’s just got such a natural ability to run the ball and is very smooth and he’s got great hands. He’s able to catch the ball out of the backfield and out of the slot. We think he can be an explosive player for us this year.
“Charlie O’Connor has been around the program for three years. He’s a tough kid. He fits right in with what coach Robinson is trying to do offensively. He can catch the ball, he’s an athletic kid, he’s a tough kid. Evan can do just about anything we need him to. He’s a good, strong kid, has a great attitude, real coachable. We feel comfortable with those guys.”
Freshman Brennan Goforth (6-0, 145) will be Manfred’s backup at fullback. Johnson added any of the three wingbacks can also rotate over to fullback.
The tight ends are Donny Cardona (sr, 6-0, 230) and Caleb Miller (jr, 5-11, 185).
“We think we can rotate both of those guys in there and get some quality minutes,” Johnson said.
The wideouts include Skylar Trujillo (jr, 5-10, 160), Malachi Pearson (jr, 6-4, 165) and Gavin George (fr, 5-11, 150).
“Skylar Trujillo has really been a back for us but we need him at spread receiver. And he’s an athlete, has good hands,” Johnson said. “Malachi Pearson is out for the first time. He’s got some real good height and he’s real long, he’s a basketball player.
“We also think that Gavin George, a freshman, will eventually be able to play receiver for us.”
Johnson added that Pearson won’t play Friday against Peru due to an elbow injury suffered playing basketball. He’s hoping he’ll be able to return Week 2 against Frankfort.
On the offensive line, the centers include starter Brady Williams (jr, 5-11, 315) and backup Caleb Risher (6-0, 200). Eli Starkey (jr, 5-11, 210) will start at left guard and Brayden Guire (sr, 5-7, 230) will start at right guard, and freshmen Grayson Long (6-0, 165) and Tristan Kitchel (6-0, 180) are the backups. Jesse Medina (sr, 6-2, 380) will start at left tackle and Noah Worsham (so, 6-5, 255) can rotate in there, and Liam Kitchel (jr, 6-1, 260) will start at right tackle and Seth Hassett (jr, 6-4, 220) could also rotate in.
Johnson said defenders could rotate in quite a bit this year. Jhon Paul Charles (jr, 5-8, 185) will be one of the defensive tackles.
“It’s really just his second year playing. He’s not very big but he’s real quick and explosive,” Johnson said.
Medina, Williams, Starkey and Liam Kitchel can all rotate in at defensive tackle.
Cardona and Guire will start at defensive end. Worsham, Risher and Hassett can rotate in.
Manfred will start at middle linebacker. Trujillo has moved from defensive back to linebacker. Miller, James Birnell (sr, 5-10, 160) and Gavin Barron (so, 6-0, 155) are also linebackers. Freshman Long can rotate in when Manfred needs a breather.
Vizcarra and O’Connor start at cornerback and McLochlin and Garrett Barron start at safety. John Scott (so, 5-10, 130), Raymi Fuster (sr, 5-9, 155), Pearson and George can rotate in at DB.
Juan Perez will return as the starting place kicker. The junior also plays soccer and had five goals in the Berries’ season opening win earlier this week. He and O’Connor are the punters.
Robinson was brought in to mix in the passing game with the wing-T offense. He’ll also run some spread offense. He has been coordinating offenses since 1973.
“I’m definitely going to be there to make suggestions,” Johnson said. “I’ve said for years that it would be a position I would love to be able to have somebody do it because you’re always constantly thinking ‘what’s the next play?’ You’re always thinking of the next play where I can kind of sit back now and look more at our personnel and what the defense is doing, instead of worrying about what the next play is going to be. We’ll see. The play caller does have an impact on the game where he can kind of manage the game in terms of the time and the flow of it. But coach Robinson has done it for a lot longer than I have.
“It’s going to look a little different probably than most people have seen. I’m really thankful for coach Robinson and coach Gregorich. They have just really helped tremendously taking the load off the head coach quite a bit. I know he appreciates that. So we trust those guys with their responsibilities and really they fit in very well. They’ve done a great job with our guys here in preseason camp. You’re going to see a little bit different look offensively and little bit different look defensively than what we have.”
The Berries have gone 5-5 and 4-6 over the last two seasons. They have several players now playing in college, which shows how difficult the North Central Conference has been in recent years, especially with the addition of the Lafayette schools. Kokomo played in the Class 5A state championship game two years ago and Marion is ranked No. 1 in the Class 4A preseason polls. Lafayette Jeff is ranked No. 8 in Class 6A.
“We were just telling those guys today that we have made contact to all those guys who have gone on and played college for us,” Johnson said. “Oscar Grimaldo is in Illinois at Olivet, Stevie Mendez is at Manchester, Brandon Goodman and Elijah Crowe are at Anderson, Dusten Wilson is at Wabash, Dante Darden is at Franklin. We’ve had a lot of guys who played for us who are playing college ball now. That just kind of tells you how good some of those players were for us.”
Johnson looks for his squad to continue its recent trend of showing improvement on the field.
“That’s the whole point. We expect our guys to improve and I know our coaches, we work at that every day, get a little better, that’s the goal. Get a little better every day,” he said.
The Berries open at home at 7 o’clock tonight against Peru with the Baldini Trophy on the line. Starting in 1902, it’s the longest continuous rivalry game in the state. Logansport leads the series 60-50-5. The Berries have won three straight matchups including 62-0 last year.
“They were a team that I think went 0-10 last year. But I saw a lot of improvement on their scrimmage tape,” Johnson said. “They’re still pretty young. They’ve got [Daunte] Majors out for the first time playing football. He looked very, very good in the scrimmage. He is definitely a concern for us. He’s somebody we’re going to have to pay close attention to. He gets on the flank, he’s very scary out there. We’ve worked hard this week to hopefully negate that. They’ve got a good young head coach [Romison Saint-Louis]. It’s a rivalry. It’s always been really a pretty tough ballgame. We’re hoping we can play well here in our home opener against these guys.”
Aug. 30 at Frankfort
Sept. 6 Harrison
Sept. 13 at Indianapolis Tech
Sept. 20 McCutcheon
Sept. 27 Marion
Oct. 4 at Kokomo
Oct. 11 at Lafayette Jeff
Oct. 18 Muncie Central
SECTIONAL 18 FIELD: Culver Academy, Kankakee Valley, New Prairie, Plymouth, South Bend Clay, South Bend Riley, South Bend St. Joseph.