Mustangs returning plenty of speed, strength and experience in 2017

Speed, strength and experience are a good combination for any football team to have on Friday nights.

Fortunately for Eldon, the Mustangs will feature all three when they return to the gridiron in 2017. Indeed, with good attendance in the weight room, players that won state track and field medals this past spring and 19 of 22 starters back in the maroon and gold from a team that finished 7-5 and made a run to the district championship in 2016, there is plenty of reason to be excited.

“We feel like we are as strong and fast as we’ve been since I got here so that is the way it is supposed to work out,” Eldon coach Shannon Jolley stated.

“We continue to do the things we have done for years and try to get more efficient at all three phases of the game. We are excited. Our kids have worked hard this spring and into the summer and it is just a good group. Each year you want to be better than you were the last year and I think we have the capability of being a better football team this year.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Eldon brings back 10 starters with a returning starter at every position except quarterback. The Mustang Wing-T offense traditionally features a punishing rushing attack and things should not be any different in 2017 after a season in which Eldon averaged 27 points per game that included 214 yards rushing yards and 87 passing yards per contest respectively.

A total of six offensive linemen with starting experience and averaging 227 pounds will be in the trenches to help move the chains. Among them are senior 2nd Team All-Conference center Tate Warny, senior guard Riley Pope, senior guard Tanner Myers, junior tackle Jacob Krantz, sophomore tackle Jonathon Schoenfeld and senior utility offensive lineman Jesse Dummermuth.

The Mustang backfield features a three-headed monster in senior running back Isaiah Merida (145 carries, 836 yards and six touchdowns), junior fullback Isaiah Parsons (134 carries, 617 yards and 10 touchdowns) and senior wing Trenton Dillon (223 rushing yards, 132 receiving yards and two total touchdowns) that should continue to be elusive and keep opposing defenses on their toes with an experienced line up front.

Eldon will also have a vertical threat in the passing game as 6-foot, 190-pound tight end Cole Walker will look to sneak behind defenses that may be lulled to sleep and give new junior quarterback Dawson Brandt an easy target downfield.

Defensively, Eldon returns nine starters to a 3-4 defensive unit that gave up 134 rushing yards, 165 passing yards and 23 points per game a season ago. Overall, the source of strength should reside from the linebackers and secondary where the Mustangs return the most experience.

The secondary will feature the hard-hitting Brandt at safety who led the team with tackles (144) that also included 12 tackles for a loss and two interceptions. Joining him will be Merida at defensive back (40 tackles and two interceptions) and junior defensive back Austin Pipes (49 tackles and two interceptions) to shut down opposing offenses.

The linebacker group will have plenty of quarterback-hunting veterans as well including Walker (114 tackles and 8.5 tackles for a loss), Parsons (139 tackles and 19 tackles for a loss), Dillon (74 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks) and Myers (53 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks).

Last but not least, Eldon returns two starters on the defensive line in Pope (15 tackles and two tackles for a loss) and senior Trent Bishop who made 14 tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss in 2016.

These players have produced results, but Jolley noted that the key to any successful season is staying healthy and establishing depth. This was never more true for the Mustangs than last season where Eldon got off to a rough start after a few key injuries, but finished strong with a run to the district title game.

“We’ve been able to develop some good foot speed in our skill positions, but we’ve also developed some good strength so it is just keeping everybody healthy and putting the pieces together by week 10,” the coach said. “We have had pretty good success with that in the past and hopefully that will be the case again this year.”

Being able to make strong recoveries will help.

“We have to make sure our kids are recovering in an intelligent fashion as far as their nutrition and sleep… We just want to make sure we try to stay healthy and do the things we have control over to maintain a healthy football team,” Jolley added.

Another thing the coach will be looking for is how the current group of seniors will be leaders and create an identity for the team. Jolley was pleased with how the summer went and glad to see strong bonds forming after team camp and other team activities.

“I’m excited about these kids getting a chance to create their own identity and my overall outlook for the year is exciting. It is a great way to start the fall off and we have a good group of kids that I think do a lot of the right things so it will be kind of fun to see them put it all on the field,” he stated.

However, the ultimate goal for this program year in and year out is taking a district title and seeing what the team is made of in the state playoffs.

“We have not really talked about last year’s loss in the district championship game. Just getting there is not enough to be excited about or satisfied with so our goal is to be a district championship caliber team and to move forward in the playoffs,” the coach noted.

Time will soon tell what this current group of gridiron Mustangs is capable of when Eldon opens up at Boonville on August 18 at 7 p.m.