By Rob Kiser
Piqua football coach Bill Nees is aware of the buzz around the Piqua football team this season.
The Indians are coming off their first playoff appearance since 2007 after going 6-5 a year ago and return numerous starters on both sides of the ball — including Michigan State commit Darien Tipps-Clemons and Kent State commit Nate Monnin.
But, nothing has really changed as far as Nees and his coaching staff are concerned.
“From the outside, there may be more optimism,” Nees said. “There may be years where we appear stronger on paper. But, for the coaches, this is no different than any other year. You have to remember, we are coming off 365 days of them lifting weights, working with them in the summer. We think we are going to run the table every year. Some years, we just come up a little short.”
The biggest change on the offensive side of the ball will be at quarterback.
Junior Austin Davis 5-foot-11, 200 pounds) — after missing last season with an injury — is set to take over the reigns.
And Davis has plenty of talent around him to help him out.
“We have been very pleased with what we have seen so far,” Nees said. “I think it helps having a strong running game and we are real solid on the offensive line. He picked up the three-step package first, then the play action. The key now is going to be if he can pick up the five-step and the reads he has to make in the five-step. That will be the key.”
Tipps-Clemons, the offensive player of the year in the GWOC North a year, returns in the backfield.
The 6-2, 218-pound senior rushed for 1,565 yards and 24 touchdowns last year on 213 carries, running over and around people. Joining him in the backfield will be senior Allen Schrubb (6-1, 237).
“They work really well together,” Nees said. “They block well for each other and there aren’t too many teams that have 220 pound running backs in the backfield together.”
Junior Hayden Schrubb (6-2, 163) looks like he is ready for a breakout season as the receiver spot, while joining him will be seniors Hunter Hawk (5-10, 158) and Caleb Patton (6-2, 172) and junior Ben Schmiesing (6-2, 197). Hawk had nine catches for 117 yards a year ago.
“In all our summer workouts Hayden (Schrubb) has been the go-to guy and has had an outstanding summer,” Nees said. “The receivers need to catch the ball when they have the opportunity and I think the big key will be doing a better job of blocking downfield — and they have been doing that.”
The Indians also have two versatile tight ends in senior Monnin (6-4, 266) and junior Derek Hite (6-4, 247). Monnin caught 14 passes for 178 yards a year ago.
“They are our starting ends on the defensive side of the ball,” Nees said. “We can rotate them and keep them fresh. They give us two guys who are big targets with a lot of athletic ability. It makes the boots and passes in the flat a lot more effective and opens up the play-action passing game.”
Up front, the Indians return guards senior Anthony Grunkemeyer (6-2, 266) and junior Ben Bynum (5-11, 239).
The center will be junior Colten Meyer (5-11, 237), while the tackles will be junior Brent Lemmon (6-5, 263) and sophomore Caden Clark (6-4, 279).
“We have two all league guards returning,” Nees said. “Colten Meyer is one of the most versatile centers we have had in a long time. And on the outside, we have two huge tackles in Brent Lemmon and Caden Clark. I think our offensive line is going to be real solid.”
On defense, the news is just as good.
Piqua returns its huge defensive front intact.
At defensive ends will be Monnin and Hite, with seniors Tristen Cox (6-4, 308) and Josh Potter (6-2, 326) returning at defensive tackle.
Those four combined for 10 sacks a year ago.
“Derek Hite led the GWOC North in sacks a year ago (5.5),” Nees said. “We expect him to have the same kind of numbers or improve on them this year.”
The linebacking corp is strong as well.
Outside linebackers Tipps-Clemons and Schmiesing combined for 105 tackles a year ago, while senior Ty Carnes, (6-2, 246) who had 42 tackles last year is back inside, with seniors Brett Craft (5-11, 239) and Allen Schrubb seeing time at the other linebacker spot.
“Ty Carnes was an all-league linebacker last year,” Nees said. “We are happy to have six all-league players returning in our front eight. Craft got some experience at linebacker last year as well.”
The secondary is led by three year starter Dylan Cole, a 6-foot-1, 196-pound senior, at safety, with junior Jacob Bushnell (5-10, 170) at one cornerback spot. Cole had 53 tackles and three interceptions a year ago.
Also seeing action in the defensive backfield will be seniors Hawk and Austin Hecker (6-0, 158) and juniors Hayden Schrubb and Cale Meckstroth (5-11, 163).
“Dylan Cole has been a leader back there,” Nees said. “Last year, he was just a member of the secondary. This year, he has taken over out there and everything has been real positive.”
The Indians special teams will also be solid.
Junior Robbie Comstock (5-8, 145) will handle the place-kicking duties, while Tipps-Clemons returns as punter after averaging 31.9 yards last year.
“Robbie (Comstock) is from the soccer team,” Nees said.
The Indians will be tested early, with four of their first six games on the road.
After hosting Meadowdale in week one, the Indians travel to Trotwood-Madison for a big week two game. That will be followed by a trip to Franklin, a home game with West Carrollton and then road games with Xenia and then Sidney to open GWOC American North play on a Thursday night.
“Opening night is always a big night,” Nees said. “We do a lot of traveling in the summer. My only concern is back-to-back road games at Trotwood and Franklin.”
The GWOC North has become the American North with Tippecanoe replacing Trotwood-Madison.
After Sidney, Piqua hosts Greenville, travels to Vandalia-Butler, then entertains Tippecanoe and Troy to close the regular season.
“I think all the teams in the American North are going to be good,” Nees said. “It is going to be very competitive in the American North.”
With the hope it will lead to playoff run to follow — which makes it just like every other season for Nees and his staff.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.