SEASON PREVIEW: Eldon football counting on veterans for improvement in 2020

MICHAEL LOSCH, Lake Sun Sports Editor
Eldon football players line up for a play during camp on July 31.

Eldon navigated some rough waters in 2019.

The Mustangs went to battle each night with a fairly young and smaller lineup than years past and finished the season 1-9 after a loss to Buffalo in the first round of districts. The good news is some valuable experience was gained and now, the program will be looking for those players to lead the way for a much different narrative in 2020. With seven returning starters on offense and eight on defense, the team might just have what it will take to accomplish that.

Eldon has not had a chance to face another team in any kind of scrimmage this summer due to COVID-19, but that opportunity will come Friday night when the Mustangs host Springfield Central for Senior Night to start off the season. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

“It is a little different going into it without a jamboree. You are kind of getting that tuneup to see where we’re at but it is nice,” Eldon coach Chad Hult said of the opportunity before his team. “We started school this week so you are getting back to your normal routine and the kids are starting to respond. Instead of corona concerns, you are back to the new concerns about where your friends are at and all those things. It is back to normal here, which is fun to see our kids enjoy.”

Hult, entering his third season as the head coach after serving the previous five as the offensive coordinator, is excited about the potential of his offensive line this season as four returners will be vital for the success of the Wing-T offense. Last season, Eldon produced 292.8 yards and 20.4 points per game, with nearly 90 percent of those yards from the rush attack.

“Our offensive line is really coming together and they are a lot of fun to watch. You see those guys picking each other up after making a great play and cheering for each other,” the coach pointed out. “Those guys are going to carry us throughout the year.”

Senior tackle Fisher Snelling, junior guard Colton Phillips, senior center Laithan Childers and junior guard Sam Coppock are the veterans Eldon will look to and along with newcomer Zion Duncan, a junior tackle, the unit averages 219 pounds. Senior wing Owen Levesque is also back and he will rely upon his teammates up front to help increase his totals of 143 rushing yards (3.1 yards per carry) and a touchdown from 2019. The Mustangs also return senior tight end P.J. Bledsoe who pulled in three receptions for 59 yards and a score.

Both sophomore Dominic Luttrell and freshman Hunter Hess may see some snaps at quarterback this year and other newcomers to watch out for on offense this season are junior running back Connor Kinder, senior receiver Ian Birdno, junior running back Mason Kirkwig, junior receiver Nicky Martonfi and sophomore fullback Daquan Williams.

The defense will look a little different under a new 4-2-5 scheme and time will tell whether it can improve upon the 46 points per game the Mustangs allowed last year. The most experience returns up front along the front seven and Hult expects this group do much better.

Snelling, who is 6-foot-4, will be a cornerstone at defensive end after making 23 tackles, including six for a loss, last year. By his side will be Phillips at defensive tackle who received All-Conference honors after making 26 tackles with nine for a loss and two sacks. Coppock (12 tackles) will be at nose guard and the linebacking corps features the return of Levesque (28 tackles) and junior Tristan Robinett (16 tackles). Junior Killian Wilson at cornerback (13 tackles) and Bledsoe at safety (17 tackles) bring returning experience to the secondary. Newcomers to check out include Kinder at free safety, Martonfi at cornerback and Birdno, Kirkwig and Williams at linebacker.

A more experienced lineup may be promising, but Hult also knows the strength of his program this season will also rely upon how well new guys adapt.

“If we can get those guys to mature pretty quickly in some key positions,” Hult posited about his team, “and get those guys to step up right away instead of getting eased into it.”

Up first on Friday night is a Springfield Central team that won its last game in 2015, looking to end a 41-game losing streak. But for Hult and company, that will certainly be no reason to look past the Bulldogs in a brand new season.

“We just have to keep getting more and more disciplined. We like to use multiple snap counts, get off the ball hard and finish games the right way,” he said. “So, we have to make sure we are mentally tough enough to be able to do that."