Fort Loramie had to travel around 1,200 miles last year in its first season playing independent of conference affiliation after the breakup of the Cross County Conference.
Those long bus rides didn’t help a squad that was trying to rebuild from graduation losses following a stellar 2020 campaign. The Redskins lost three games by three points or less — all on the road — and finished 5-7.
But with a plethora of returnees and a schedule that features six home games this year, the Redskins are hoping for better regular-season results — and better playoff results after losing in early-round regional games the last three years.
Fort Loramie is scheduled to host Minster on Friday and travel to Versailles and Spencerville, respectively, in Weeks 2 and 3. After that, trips to Welcome Stadium in Weeks 5 and 8 to play Dayton Dunbar and Thurgood Marshall, respectively, are their only remaining road games of the season.
“We’re definitely excited about that,” coach Spencer Wells, who is entering his fifth season, said of six home games. “And we want to find a way to have eight of them, earning home games for the first two rounds of the playoffs. That’s the goal right now.”
Senior quarterback Caleb Maurer returns after throwing for 2,534 yards and 26 touchdowns with 14 interceptions last year. He completed 59 percent of his passes and also ran for 216 yards and five TDs.
“He might be the best leader on our team, too,” Wells said. “We’re fortunate to have a lot of great leadership on this team. But he really leads the way. He runs the offense. Everything is basically shaped around him and his game and what he can do and playing to his strengths. We’re pretty spoiled with his athleticism, there’s no doubt.”
The squad’s top receiver from last year returns as well in Logan Eilerman. Eilerman, a 6-foot-4 senior, caught 82 passes for 973 yards with 13 TDs last year. He has 1,799 career receiving yards to his credit entering this season.
“The more that they’ve played with each other, they’ve developed a great rapport,” Wells said of Maurer and Eilerman. “They know how things are going to time up. Caleb has great anticipation whenever he throws to Logan. You can tell they have a lot of confidence in one another.”
Seniors Dylan Sanders and Christian McGee will also play at receiver. McGee returns to the program after not having played his junior season.
Senior Isaac Raterman, who was a defensive starter last year, will also start at tight end this year.
“We’re looking to him to be an impact player on our offense as well,” Wells said. “He’s doing a really nice job at tight end.”
Junior running back Will Holland returns after emerging as a strong threat for the squad late last season. He ran for 508 yards and four TDs, most of which came the last four weeks of the season. Also back at RB is senior Darren Eilerman.
Senior Calvin Hoying is Fort Loramie’s lone returning starting lineman. He’ll play at offensive tackle while his younger brother Roger, a junior, will start at center.
The Redskins were counting on junior Bradyn Frilling to start at offensive tackle, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in a scrimmage against Kenton. Louis Hart, a sophomore, will start in Frilling’s place.
“He’s tough as nails,” Wells said of Hart. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in Louis. He’s young, there’s no doubt, but he’s going to fight to the whistle.”
Senior Nate Boerger and junior Jason Siegel will start at offensive guard.
“We shifted Calvin’s spot, so he’s learning a new position he doesn’t have any experience in, so it’s almost like there are five new guys,” Wells said. “But it’s a fun group. They’re really coming together and we’re excited about their potential.”
The Redskins are moving to a 3-4 scheme on defense. Max Cotner, a senior, will start on the defensive line, as will juniors Calder Bergman and Damian Bruns.
“Calder and Max are a little shorter builds, but they have a lot of strength and quickness off the ball,” Wells said. “Damian might be our biggest guy. He’s 6-6 and has a big frame on him. That poses some different issues to offenses.”
Boerger and Calvin Hoying will start at inside linebacker while Raterman and Darren Eilerman will start at outside linebacker.
Hoying, a senior, led the squad with 80.5 tackles last year, 5.5 of which were for a loss. Boerger, a senior, made 46 tackles while Darren Eilerman, a senior, made 41. Raterman is moving from defensive end to outside linebacker; he had 37.5 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year.
Logan Eilerman returns at defensive back. He had 24 tackles and made one interception.
The Redskins opened last season by beating Minster for the first time since 2013. They’ll try for a second consecutive victory over the Wildcats on Friday at Redskin Stadium.
“They’re a nice team. You can definitely tell that they’re improved,” Wells said. “Coach Whiting is doing a nice job. We’re going to have to be ready to go.”
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.