By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — Miami East has grown very, very accustomed to the taste of success.
And like any other acquired taste, it just makes the Vikings want to experience it more.
Entering the 2015 season, Miami East has qualified for the postseason five times in the past seven years, including the past three in a row and even the program’s first-ever playoff victory in 2013. And with that run of success, this year’s seniors have the chance to accomplish one more first for the Vikings.
“That’s always the goal, to be playing in Week 11 and beyond. We’ve been fortunate enough to do that for the last three years,” Miami East coach Max Current said. “If we accomplish that again, this year’s seniors now have the opportunity to be the first class in the school’s history to go to the playoffs all four years. That’s good motivation for them — and for the team as a whole.
“It’s always nice to get to play an extra week. We’ve only ever been able to win and play in Week 12 once … but getting to Week 11 is the motivation.”
And the Vikings’ previous experience has taught them plenty, too, like how to not be intimidated on the bigger stage or how not to let setbacks derail the journey along the way.
“I still remember that first year at Marion Local,” Current said. “We had a great crowd there, but our defensive backs complained about how they couldn’t hear the coverages when they were called out. We told them ‘why do you think we have signals?’ We had some things to learn about playing in that atmosphere.
“In 2012, when we played at Coldwater, we were 4-1 to start the year — then lost two straight games. We were 4-3 and feeling sorry for ourselves, but we told the kids that we weren’t mathematically eliminated yet. We still had around a 13 percent chance at the time, but those kids rose to the occasion.”
And despite the graduation of a few key weapons from last season, Miami East has plenty of experience and leadership returning to do the same once more with eight seniors, including four All-Cross County Conference and three All-Southwest District players.
After bidding goodbye to the program’s most prolific passer in quarterback Conner Hellyer and leading all-purpose back Colton McKinney, the Vikings will plug those key holes with seniors Kurt Brower and Logan May at running back and senior Braxton Donaldson at quarterback.
“Braxton’s always been the backup quarterback, and he’s been a heck of a tight end for us,” Current said. “He’s been the starting tight end since he was a freshman and also the backup QB, and when Conner broke his collar bone his sophomore year, he stepped up and started at QB the last four games and our playoff game. We’re trying to get him back into that mode this year.
“Kurt led the team in rushing at fullback last year with over 1,000 yards, and he’s a strong outside linebacker and led the team in tackles for loss. He’s a powerful running back — our only experienced running back, really. We’ll ride him a lot and lean pretty heavily on him. Logan was a wide receiver/defensive back last year, but we’re moving him to running back this year. He’s learning a new position, but he’s a senior and he’ll be alright.”
The bulk of the Vikings’ experience is concentrated in a good place — along the offensive and defensive lines and at linebacker.
Senior Caden Hellyer returns at linebacker after leading the team in tackles last year. Also back is senior center/inside linebacker Michael Werling and senior linemen Daniel Everett, Ben Ferguson and Kyle Maggert.
“Caden was a force for us on defense last year,” Current said. “We’re counting on him to be a big defensive leader for us. Michael was a starter the last half of last year at defensive tackle, but he’s a former linebacker and we’ve moved him back there, so we’ve got two seniors in the middle.
“Daniel has the capability to play all four spots along the defensive line, so he’s very versatile. Ben was our right tackle on offense last year but we’ve moved him to guard, so with him and Caden we’ve got a couple of big bodies that move well. And Kyle gives us good depth at guard on offense. Since we have a lot of two-way guys, we’ll need guys to spell each other.”
The Vikings also have a host of juniors battling for spots. Arron Adams and Levi Adduchio and will vie for time at wheel back, and Logan West will play tight end/defensive end. Omar Seleme and Dakota Brown will add depth to the lines and Joseph Villella will play at corner as only one player in the defensive backfield returns.
“Our first-team guys on both lines and at linebacker have good experience,” Current said. “Three of the four secondary spots and the skill positions on offense are where our inexperience is. But we saw some nice things in our first scrimmage against Lehman. It’s important for our young kids to figure out the speed and physicality of the game in the preseason.”
Because once the season begins, the Vikings will need to hit the ground running to reach their destination. The CCC has sent numerous teams to the playoffs the last three years — other than only the Vikings.
“A lot of guys out there study up on exactly who has who coming back, but I worry more about us,” Current said. “I think about it, don’t get me wrong. But we like to focus on the things we can control.
“Covington played a lot of young guys last year, so look for them to be strong. (Tri-County) North and (Twin Valley) South had very senior-dominated teams last year, but the kids that are replacing them had to practice against those kids, making them better. They’ve got solid programs. Arcanum’s got a lot coming back, there’s a couple new coaches at (National) Trail and Mississinawa (Valley).
“Some people don’t respect our conference very much, but we had four playoff teams two years ago and three last year. It’s a battle every week. The last few years our conference has sent a lot of teams to Week 11.”
Something Miami East knows a little something about.
“This is what we’ve been waiting since last November for,” Current said. “Not everyone can say they made it to Week 11. Hopefully, we can take care of business and these seniors can say they’ve done something no one else at Miami East has.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132.