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Red Hill High School football preview
Depth the big concern for new-look Salukis
BRIDGEPORT - Iron man football might not be a thing of the past.

Although the mandatory one-platoon system was eliminated in the 1940s, there may be a revival under way at Red Hill High School.

New coach Billy Gray might not have much choice, due to a lack of depth and experience.

"The lack of depth is our biggest concern," said Gray, just the third coach in the history of the school that was a consolidation of Bridgeport and Sumner high schools in the fall of 1974, "If we have some key injuries this could turn into a long season just because of the inexperience."

If the Salukis stay healthy, however, Gray says a return to the playoffs is likely. Red Hill missed the post-season tournament a year ago, after earning berths in five of six seasons before that.

"Going 6-3 would be great, but 5-4 is probably more realistic," Gray said. "That's the honest truth. If we stay healthy I don't see any reason we can't reach that goal."

Despite a roster with just 37 names - 13 of which are freshmen - the cupboard isn't completely bare. A handful of starters return on both sides of the ball from a team that finished 2-7 a year ago.

Red Hill is deep in the backfield, as four of the top six rushers from last year's team return. That includes 6-0 senior running back Derek Clevy (69 carries, 352 yards, two touchdowns) and his 5-8, 170-pound classmate Tyler Scaggs (33 carries, 220 yards). Sharing the load at fullback are juniors Max Andersen (5-9, 180), who rushed 45 times for 270 yards and a TD before being injured last season, and Eli Evans (5-8, 200), who carried 33 times for 151 yards and a score.

"What one of them can't do, the other can," Gray said of his fullbacks.

Red Hill had planned on junior quarterback Blake Adams continuing to develop, after he completed 10 of 35 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown a year ago. However, the 5-10, 160-pounder sustained a broken leg during a summer workout and will miss at least the first half of the season.

Stepping in will be 5-8, 155-pound freshman Dalton Murray, backed up by 5-10, 145-pound sophomore Isaiah Cavins.

Gray is confident in the men who'll be opening the holes.

"I think our offensive line will shine," he said.

Senior Lance Phillips (6-0, 210) will line up at center, with senior Matt Young (5-9, 220) and junior Trevor Richards (6-3, 250) penciled in at the guard spots. Jacob Wirth, a 6-1, 180-pound junior, is a possibility at tackle, along with senior Noah Puntney (6-2, 185) and sophomore Corton Ericksen (6-3, 210).

"We have a good array of linemen," Gray said. "They're all intelligent kids and they work hard. (Assistant coach Jerry) Wirth has them working together well."

The inexperience comes into play in the receiving corps. Jacob Wirth is a possibility at tight end, and he led the team with three catches - two of which went for touchdowns - and 91 yards. None of the other returnees caught more than one pass. Puntney, as well as sophomores Tristan Holtz (5-7, 145), Benito Douglas (5-10, 142) and Elijah Carroll (6-3, 180) are all possibilities.

"You may see a lot of different people at receiver, with no method at all behind it, in order to try to find which ones are best for us," Gray said. "I'm confident we'll be able to pick up a first down here or there by passing the ball."

Andersen will be a defensive leader, whether he's playing nose tackle or at linebacker. Richards, Wirth, Phillips, Ericksen and possibly even Evans may also wind up in the interior line.

Tyler Tussey, a 5-8, 180-pound senior, is slotted for a linebacker spot, along with Young and Evans. Scaggs and Clevy will start at the corners with Puntney, Cavins and Holtz among those expected to see duty at safety.

The kicking game is a question mark, now that the school is not accepting foreign exchange students, according to Gray. Wirth, backed up by sophomore Steven Hartz (5-10, 162) has won the punting job. Gray was uncertain as to who would boot extra points or kick off.

Deven Moore (5-7, 150), a fleet freshman, is likely to return punts and kickoffs.

Gray says the plan is to use the special teams to get the two-way players a rest.

"We'll try to get some of those able bodies in there and let them learn the game a little bit while we're doing that," he said.

The Salukis will be in the Eastern Division of the newly-aligned Little Illini Conference, along with the other "small" schools - Casey, Oblong, Palestine, Cumberland and Edwards County.

They'll start their season Friday by hosting Flora in a LIC crossover game. Other crossover opponents are Robinson, Olney and Lawrenceville in the regular season finale on Oct. 19.

RHHS schedule

A24 FLORA, 7 p.m.

A31 ROBINSON, 7 p.m.

S7 Edwards County, 7 p.m.

S14 OBLONG, 7 p.m.

S21 Palestine, 7 p.m.

S28 CUMBERLAND, 7 p.m.

05 Casey, 7 p.m.

O12 OLNEY, 7 p.m.

O19 Lawrenceville, 7 p.m.

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