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Bethlehem football fans could see a different style of play than they are used to as coach Ron Koontz gears his team up for the 2014 season, starting with an Aug. 29 game against Thomas Nelson.
Riding the arm of graduated Connor Ballard, Bethlehem averaged more than 44 points per game en route to a 10-2 season and the school’s first district championship, with Ballard snaring the Class 1A District 2 Player of the Year honors.
“We were pretty much able to score at any time last year,” said Koontz, who not only was voted top coach in the district, he was also picked by his peers as Class 1A Coach of the Year in Kentucky. “We’ve had to change our mentality a little bit this year, and we’re not quite there yet.”
Sophomore Matthew Hagan will be stepping into the quarterback spot, and his coach says that he played well in 7-on-7 summer play.
“He did some good things in our scrimmage last Friday against Hart County,” Koontz said. “But he’s a sophomore and he’s going to make sophomore mistakes.”
As Hagan grows into his position, Bethlehem will be depending on senior running back Jake Yates to carry the load.
“Jake was our main runner last year, and he ran hard in our scrimmage,” Koontz said.
Yates — also a threat on defense and as a receiver out of the backfield — says he likes being in that role.
“I’m really happy to be the workhorse, especially my senior year,” Yates said. “But really, the offensive line does all of the work. All I have to do is run through the holes they make. They make my job easy to do.”
Koontz must replace the left side of his offensive line with the graduation of Jake Willett and Bennett Lapora, but that line still figures to be a strength.
He says that five players will split the time and alternate on the left side until someone steps out from the group. Those players include senior Jared Evanow, sophomore Tommy Crawford, juniors Robert Isaacs and Dylan Gordon, and freshman Alex Brown.
The loss on the left side of the ball means that the right side has experience. Three-year junior starters Grant Montgomery and Jared Reese will play the tackle and guard spots. Another three-year starter, junior William Brown, will anchor the line from his center position.
“I try not to move a kid from one side of the line to the other,” Koontz said. “Some coaches will do that to balance the experience and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Koontz said that his defensive unit played well in the scrimmage at Hart.
“We actually thought our offense would be ahead of the defense when we went down there, but that wasn’t the case.”
Senior Caleb Bird has shown leadership by offering to change positions to help the team.
“Bird has played defensive back for us in the past and he came to us and wanted to play linebacker,” Koontz said. “We told him that we would give him a chance but we would move him back if necessary. He’s done a nice job there.”
Montgomery and Robert Isaacs will play on the defensive line and at linebacker. Crawford, Brown and Reese will also man the defensive line.
Caleb Winebrenner and J.T. Isaacs will be at the inside linebacker position while Downs will join Bird at the outside linebacker spot.
Ritchie and Hagan will spend time as defensive backs, although Koontz admitted that he doesn’t like his quarterback playing defense.
Sophomore Jameson Hinkebein saw extensive minutes in the Hart County scrimmage and will also play in that DB position.
On offense, junior Zach Ritchie and sophomore Hunter Downs will join Yates in carrying the football.
“They are two different types of runners,” Koontz said. “Zach is a power runner while Hunter is very shifty, very quick.”
Two experienced seniors who saw extensive action last year, Bird and Winebrenner return to the wide receiver position, an area hit particularly hard by graduation of longtime starters Taylor Ryan and Janzen Sivori.
“They are going to have some big shoes to fill to step in for Taylor and Janzen,” Koontz admitted. “But Caleb Bird and Caleb Winebrenner are both excellent receivers.”
Junior J.D. Taylor will also see time at wide receiver.
With only 32 players on the roster, many of the same players will be on the defensive side of the football. And Koontz will be able to move players around if necessary.
Koontz knows that his team will have to play well to match last season’s sparkling record.
“I was stunned last year when we went 10-2,” he said. “The big difference in last year and some others we’ve had is that we didn’t lose people to injuries. We had people get hurt but they could play.”
But Isaacs thinks the team can match up with that record.
“We lost a bunch of good players from last year’s team, but we’ve really been working hard all summer,” he said. “We’re going to correct our mistakes from the scrimmage and I think we’ll be OK.”