West Coast, spread, wildcat — some football coaches can’t resist feeding whatever ‘flavor of the year’ offense is popular to their football teams, and they do the same on defense.
Marion High School head coach Grant Thierolf isn’t one of them. As he enters his 25th season of Warriors’ football, he’s sticking with the tried and true.
“We’re always going to be an option football team,” Thierolf said. “It’s what we believe in, it’s the style we enjoy coaching. We’ll change a few things to take advantage of the kids we have.
“Defensively we’ve tweaked some things, adjusted a little bit of our philosophy, but we’ll be the same.”
Knowing the systems will allow a team featuring 20 seniors and juniors to execute and react more without thinking about what their assignments are, Thierolf said.
“They remember what they’re supposed to do. The volume of information they can have thrown at them may be a little more, and we can expand some things on the practice field or in the course of the game,” Thierolf said.
“We’re excited about our senior class,” Thierolf said. “We have some good kids there who have continually been getting better.”
Senior Brody Carroll will take over in the offensive backfield for Colten Johnson, who often ran over tacklers while piling up more than 1,200 yards rushing last season. Carroll said he will rely more on his agility.
“I don’t power my way through a lot of stuff like Colten did,” Carroll said. “I do more cutting around everyone.”
Carroll is confident his offensive line, anchored by seniors Isaac Baldwin and Spencer Fugitt, will open holes for him.
“They’re really good,” Carroll said. “They’re probably more conditioned than everyone else.”
Thierolf likes the options he sees with Carroll.
“The only difference in style is that Brody’s about 20 pounds lighter,” Thierolf said. “Brody reads blocks very well, and he’s versatile — he can play receiver, he can play slotback, he can play fullback, so we can use him a lot of different places.”
In another season, 6-foot, 3-inch, 228-pound newcomer Morgan Wheeler might have been plugged into the offensive line, but Thierolf has the luxury this year to put him in the backfield.
“We had enough depth on the offensive line that we could afford to move somebody out of there,” Thierolf said. “We started Morgan with that the first day he was here and we just kept at it.”
Blake Stringer, another transfer, will get time playing on the line.
“So far he’s been a nice surprise. He’s a big guy, and he moves people when he gets off the ball,” Thierolf said.
Junior Taylor Heidebrecht will quarterback the Warrior offense, and Theirolf likes the athletic savvy he brings to the position.
“He understands game situations,” Thierolf said. “You can tell him one time we’re running a slant to the tight side, you’ve got a three-yard window and it’s got to be right there, and if it’s not do something else with it. You tell him that once and he’ll remember it.
“Other quarterbacks that don’t have that sense might make the same mistake time and time again. Taylor has that basic knowledge.”
Heidebrecht was junior-varsity quarterback last year, so Theirolf has a good idea what to expect from him.
“He’s got very quick feet, reads to option well,” Thierolf said. “He doesn’t throw pretty, but throws effectively. He just gets the ball there with good accuracy and surprising strength.”
Wide receivers Jacob Harper, James Jones, and Zac Robson, and tight ends Wiley Lundy and Grif Case will be Heidebrecht’s targets when he drops back to pass.
Thierolf said senior Harper has emerged as a vocal team leader, and the Warriors will need Harper’s leadership to shore up a defensive backfield that gave up 14 yards per completion last season.
“Harper has had the best off-season he’s ever had. He’s just gotten stronger and more confident in what he’s doing,” Thierolf said.
“My goal is to get these guys fired up and ready to play some football,” Harper said. “We’ll be all right back there. We’ve been putting in a lot of work this summer.”
Harper has moved from cornerback to safety, a change he welcomes.
“I love it. You get better angles, and you’re the captain of the defense. I’m ready to go for that,” Harper said.
“I think we’re stronger,” Thierolf said. “James Jones has the size, the speed, everything you need to be a great cornerback. Eric Regnier and Taylor Heidebrecht will compete for the other corner. Eric’s got experience, Taylor’s got great ball skills. Zac Robson will play somewhere — he’s going to make good decisions, and sometimes you want that kind of kid back there because he’s not going to get beat.”
Nick Meyer and Baldwin will play defensive tackle, along with Evan Slater, Dylan Goebel, and Stringer. John Nordquist, Wiley Lundy, and Zac Lewman will see time at defensive end.
“We’ve got some bodies we can run in there in the defensive front, and that’s good,” Thierolf said, “because that’s an area we need to keep fresh.”
Kyle Palic, Ethan Hett, Carroll, and Wheeler will make up the linebacking corps. Fugitt will join them when he recuperates from an off-season injury.
“We’ve got good experience there with speed and athleticism. Not having Spencer early on hurts us, but it gives us a chance to build up some depth,” Thierolf said.
Thierolf said Case will handle kickoffs, extra points, and field goals, and Palic will punt.
Thierolf expects to get a good sense of his team’s strengths and weaknesses in their first two games.
“We start off against two very good teams in Ell-Saline and Sedgwick. We’re going to find out where we are very quickly,” Thierolf said. “There won’t be any false sense that we’re good when we have deficiencies. We’ll have to have our A-game going right from the start.”
Hillsboro, Moundridge, and Central Kansas League champion Halstead give Marion another tough group of opponents for district play.
“It’s good to be back playing Halstead, they’re always solid,” Thierolf said. “Hillsboro has gotten us the past couple of years. Moundridge lost some good skill kids, but they’ve got some good young athletes. It looks to be another challenging district.”
The Warriors kick off the season Aug. 31 at Ell-Saline.