Players and coaches for the Brandon-Evansville football team are not shying away from expectations this season.
The Chargers were 4-5 in 2018 but could have been much closer to an eight-win team during that same stretch if they would have closed out tight games better on the road. That was all done with just one senior in Chris Vinson. Now with nine seniors back and 10 juniors right behind them adding depth, Brandon-Evansville enters this fall as a confident group.
“It’s going to be hopefully a good and exciting year,” senior fullback/linebacker Tanner Bitzan said from practice on Aug. 13. “We didn’t have a year that we planned on last year with the losses. We were a young team, and it’s going to be a good year where we have a lot of experience, got a little more depth and hopefully it’s a year where we play like our heads are on fire and just go get it.”
The Chargers were undefeated at home last fall and winless on the road. They averaged 47 points per game in Brandon compared to 14.8 in road contests.
Part of that is facing good teams like Verndale, Underwood and Wheaton on the road, but the discrepancy between those home and away splits played out during the final two weeks of the season. Brandon-Evansville beat Hancock 40-20 in Brandon in week eight and then went to the Owls’ home field in the playoff opener and lost 43-12.
“I think it’s just finding that way to win,” head coach Tim Pattrin said. “We had some young mistakes that would happen here or there at the end. A lot of teams were senior heavy last year. We were junior heavy, so they were a little bit bigger and stronger than we were. A lot of guys took that to heart and put in a good summer in the weight room. They’ve gotten bigger and stronger and gotten more physical.”
That added size has the Chargers excited about getting back to what they do best. Brandon-Evansville dominated on the ground and in stopping the run themselves when it went 7-3 in 2016 and 9-2 in 2017.
“We went a little more lateral last year offensively and we were kind of timid on defense,” Pattrin said. “This year we really emphasized that we’re getting downhill, attacking and getting everyone to the ball. So far after camp and two days here (of practice), they really look like they’ve taken it to heart and are coming along.”
Being able to play that downhill game starts with strong line play. Sam Fuller and Luke Moore will anchor the ends for the Chargers offensive line, with Andrew Johnson at center. Mike Cochran, Brandon Johnson and Andrew Perrin are in a battle for the two starting spots at guard.
Hunter Koep joins the Johnsons, Perrin, Cochran and Moore as guys looking to set the tone along the line defensively.
Pattrin said every one of those guys are bigger and stronger than a year ago, which has given him a lot of confidence that the Chargers have what it takes to run the ball and stop the run the way they could a couple seasons ago.
“We got a little bit of everything,” Bitzan said. “We got some size and then we have guys who can come in and do some different stunts and mess with the offensive line to get their heads spinning. We have some speed at our safeties, and for us linebackers we have some bigger dudes who will eat up gaps and some speed guys for the pass. I think we have a good variety of everything we need.”
Marshall Riedel (RB/DB) is one of the most dangerous skill-position players back, but he will ease into things this season.
Riedel ran for 1,059 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall as a junior. He also earned B-E’s MVP Award in baseball, but he tore the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his left knee during a playoff game in the spring. Riedel can practice right now during non-contact portions after rehabbing this offseason.
Pattrin said Riedel will be limited carrying the ball when he is expected to return to games early in the season. He’s confident that backs like junior Cade Carlson, along with Bitzan and senior quarterback Keagan Schiele, can pick up the carries as Riedel works his way to full strength.
“We pride ourselves on being able to be versatile and running to both sides of the field,” Pattrin said. “We have guys who do that right now.”
Riedel said from practice on Tuesday that one thing they learned from last year is that they have a group willing to put in the effort to turn some of those close losses into wins this fall. He knows they need to get better on the road.
“Just work hard and focus on what we can do better every game,” Riedel said.
Pattrin has seen a lot of these guys work to have a good 2019 season. Now their opportunity awaits when the Chargers head to Rothsay for the season opener on Aug. 29.
“We have very high expectations for this team,” Pattrin said. “The guys have it too. They’ve come out ready to work. They’ve taken coaching and done everything we’ve asked them so far. A lot of them had a great summer, so we’re really excited for what’s ahead.”