Summit Christian Academy has played with a target on its back recently, and new coach Todd Berck expects that to stay the same.
Only for a much different reason.
“People will be licking their chops thinking this is their opportunity to get at SCA,” Berck said. “We put some whippings on some people and people have long memories.”
SCA steamrolled over most of its opponents last season as it raced to an 11-2 record, a second-straight Crossroads Conference championship, a first-ever district title and the Class 2 state quarterfinals. But when SCA opens the 2017 season tonight at home against Christ Prep, only a few players from that team will be on the Eagles’ sideline.
The game will not only be Berck’s debut, it will also be the first for almost every skill player on the Eagles’ lineup. Berck doesn’t expect these Eagles, at least as the season gets under way, to be the same high-flying team that averaged almost 48 points a game last season.
Berck still hasn’t settled on a replacement at quarterback for Sam Huckabee, who amassed more than 3,000 yards of total offense and 48 touchdowns while driving that offense last season. Battling for the spot are two underclassmen: Christian Newsome, a sophomore, and Grayson Sprouse.
Newsome is the only one who has seen any varsity experience and Berck said he would start Friday. But Sprouse is going to see plenty of snaps as well.
“I think right now they’re 1A and 1B,” Berck said. “They both have their different strengths and weakness and they’re both untested. We don’t feel one of them has won that job yet, so we’re hoping that one of them comes to the top.”
It’s a similar situation at running back, although junior Josh McConnell is certain to get most of the carries. McConnell, a junior, rushed for 263 yards and six touchdowns last season. Sophomore Jake McIlhaney will start at fullback and Sean Smith and Luke Moehle will see snaps as well.
The receiving corps is almost totally new, with Braeden Campbell and Nathan Drum as the starting wideouts, with Cooper Rieb and Zack Oppriecht backing them up. With so many newcomers, Berck isn’t going to let the offense get too fancy early on.
“We’re really going to have to manage the game for our young quarterbacks until they get their feet wet and know what’s going on and not ask them to do too much,” Berck said. “We’re not going to take as many chances as (last year’s team) did. Their arms aren’t as strong as Huckabee’s was and they’re just not as confident right now.”
Those newcomers will be protected by a veteran line, which features three returning starters: seniors Jack Shoemake, Trenton Holloway and Jalen Nash. Shoemake is a third-year starter. They will also be the mainstays on the Eagles’ defensive line.
“With the experience they have and the new kids that came in, it’s exciting to see,” Berck said. “They’re going to make mistakes, obviously, but physically they’ll be able to handle their own with anybody. I think we’re going to be pretty salty up front.”
The schedule could be saltier, too, especially early on as the younger Eagles get acclimated to varsity ball. A third straight Crossroads Conference title could still be in play, but Berck really isn’t sure what awaits yet.
Credit last year’s stars for that, too.
“I don’t really have a good feel of teams and competition yet to be quite honest,” Berck said. “It’s hard to watch these teams on tape because last year’s team was so dominant you don’t really get a feel for what he completion was like.”