FORT LORAMIE — Last year was one of change for Fort Loramie’s football program. There’s more this year.
After five seasons in the Northwest Central Conference, the Redskins left for the Cross Country Conference in 2017. Fort Loramie went 8-3 against an almost entirely new slate of opponents, but coach Whit Parks resigned last December after negative feedback from a community survey.
That leads to more change this year with new coach Spencer Wells, who took over in January. With a new coach comes new formations — spread on offense and 4-3 on defense.
The changes have been relatively easy for Fort Loramie’s players, and 10 returning starters look to lead the team to the top of the CCC standings and into the postseason again this year.
“I’ve been very pleased with how we’ve been able to progress with the installation of a new offense and a new defense, and I think that says a lot about our assistant coaches and our players,” Wells said. “Our assistant coaches are all local guys, Loramie guys. They bought in and really dove into the scheme, and they’ve in turn done a great job teaching it to the guys.”
With most of the playbook already learned, the Redskins will look to hit the ground running when they open the season against Minster.
Though Fort Loramie will use the spread, they’ll be run-oriented. Leading rushing Mike Hoying graduated, but the Redskins have depth at running back.
Returning starter Carter Mescher ran for 793 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Mescher, a senior, will share the ball with senior Carson Moore, senior Devin Wehrman and sophomore Max Hoying, all of whom had at least 10 carries last year.
With the graduation of multi-year starter Austin Siegel, the Redskins will start a new player at quarterback. There’s an open competition between senior Nate Raterman, junior Nick Brandewie and sophomore Collin Moore.
“It’s good having a senior, junior and a sophomore compete,” Wells said. “They all compete and help each other out. They’re all smart kids. We still have a lot of evaluating to do (to determine who plays).”
All running backs could have passes thrown their way, as well as senior tight end CJ Billing and senior wide receiver Mason Kemper, who are returning starters. Returning letterwinner Mark Seger will also play at receiver, as well senior newcomer Ben Barhorst.
“Mark Seger and Mason Kemper are our ‘X’ receivers, perimeter guys that we’ll rely heavily on in our pass game,” Wells said. “Ben Barhorst is really coming on and I think has done a really nice job. They’re the main ones we’re looking at right now.”
Fort Loramie returns three starters on the offensive line: senior Logan Siegel, senior Collin Detrick and junior Josh Pangilinan.
“Having those guys back is great,” Wells said. “They’re leaders for us, and they’re playing with an attitude. That’s been really big. I’ve relied on them to help install our run game, and they’ve done a really great job in that unit.”
The defensive line will be anchored by Billing and Raterman, who are defensive ends. Billing had 52 tackles and four sacks last season, while Raterman had 28 tackles and one interception.
“CJ and Nate, they’re just great kids,” Wells said. “They’re great leaders and their teammates respect them. They set the tone, and it’s great having them on each edge. Having those guys with their experience is very fortunate for us.”
Hoying, a linebacker, is the team’s leading returning tackler. He had 80 tackles, two sacks and three fumble recoveries last year.
Wehrman, a returning letterwinner, and Noah Guillozet, a junior newcomer, will also start at linebacker. Sophomore newcomers Tyler Luthman and Nate Meyer will be backup linebackers.
“I think Devin really improved in the offseason in our strength and conditioning program,” Wells said of Wehrman. “He put on a lot of size and a lot of strength. His agility and his footwork has improved. He’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Brandewie, Moore and Kemper will play at defensive back. Brandewie had 54 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries last year while Moore and Kemper played at the position sparingly. Senior newcomer Jake Ratermann will play at safety.
“We’ve been getting to the football, and that’s what we want to see,” Wells said of the team’s defense. “Hustling and getting to the football, everyone pursuing.”
It’s the first head coaching job for Wells, who had been an assistant at several schools since graduating from Bowling Green in 2010. He most recently was an assistant at Wapakoneta.
Wells will try to elevate the program, which has 51 players, to the level of success others at the school have enjoyed. In this decade, the baseball, boys cross country, girls basketball and volleyball programs have won state titles, while many others have made deep postseason runs.
Many of the team’s players are members of Fort Loramie’s baseball squad, which won the Division IV state title last spring.
“I think (elevating the program) was the goal even before I got here,” Wells said. “I think that’s because school-wide you see the tradition of what they do and what they’ve done in every sport. Football’s no different — our expectations are high.
“One thing I’ve told the guys is there’s a lot of work we’ve got to do to earn that. They’ve been buying in and playing hard. If we keep working, I’m excited to see what we can do.”
And with that work, the Redskins may see another change: more football trophies.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.