Eastern Greene’s football program is getting a makeover.
The T-Birds are looking to turn back the clock just a little bit, memories of 2016-18 still fresh in many heads. But a lot of things will have to come together to shake off a trio of 1-9 seasons.
There are some reasons to believe, but also plenty of questions to answer:
Can Eastern meet higher expectations?
To do so, it will start with buy-in and effort to make it happen. This is not a case where new coach Travis Wray and a new staff showing up makes a turnaround happen automatically. Not with six teams on the schedule who received votes in the preseason AP polls.
“For whatever reason, there’s this belief that this coaching staff is magically going to turn things around,” Wray said. “I try to tell the kids all the time, it has nothing to do with us and it has everything to do with what they do and what they buy into and what they believe and how they react to things.
“I really believe I’ve put together one of the best 1A coaching staffs in the south. We have experience. We have three former head coaches on staff as assistants. We have guys with college playing experience, guys who were players or coaches on that ‘17 team.”
But it is also a process, one that starts with enthusiasm. It’s an emotion that has to be contagious.
“Anybody who has been around me as a coach knows I coach with enthusiasm,” Wray said. “I tell the boys they have to match my enthusiasm. That doesn’t mean they have to whoop and holler and run around, but the effort has to be there. Every day.
“And we’ve had that since Day 1 of spring ball. We’ve had some bumps, but I’m proud of the boys for buying into that. When we don’t have the energy and effort that you expect, you have lulls and it leads downhill.”
Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough players to field a JV team this year, something Wray hopes to have fixed for 2023.
How quickly will the T-Birds pick up the new schemes?
The second biggest hurdle, Wray noted, is remaking the offense and defense, the defense in his image, the offense in that of veteran assistant coordinator Danny Tieken. The offense is a multiple spread uptempo approach.
“My first call when I was considering taking this job was to him,” Wray said. “If I take this, you’re my OC. And he goes, ‘Absolutely.’ For me it was huge. I wasn’t taking it without him.
“His leadership and his knowledge and he coaches it with love. We do everything with enthusiasm and love.”
On defense, Eastern will absorb the 3-4 scheme Wray used at Bloomington North under Scott Bless.
“It’s a big change for them,” Wray said. “But they’ve wholeheartedly bought into it.”
Will Eastern’s skill players have room to roam?
Eastern is packed with athletes who can do good things with the football in their hands.
“It all starts with James Lewis in the backfield,” Wray said. Lewis, a junior, was Eastern’s top rusher and receiver and will be the definite workhorse this season. Junior Evan Ferkingstad will also get his share of carries.
Junior Jonas Hawk returns at starting quarterback and will join Lewis and Ferkingstad as captains. “I can’t think of three better leaders,” Wray said. Hawk will have several receivers back this season in junior Jedd Cummings in the slot and senior Braxton Deckard and junior Lane Stephens out side. At the H-back spot/TE is 245-pound sophomore Peyton Lewis, who might even get some work as a Wildcat QB.
That said ... it’s up to the line to get its job done. Wray has just 10 linemen (thus no JV team), some going both ways, but he hopes he can rotate a few bodies into keep them fresh. He does have some big bodies. “We’ll live and die with what they do,” Wray said.
The group includes juniors Bryce Teague at C (285), Darrel Burton at LG (6-6, 370), sophomore Kendall Burton at LT, sophomore Landon Henderson at RG (315) and sophomore Brody Teague at RT. Add in 6-4, 370 North Daviess transfer David Newby.
Can Wray spark a defensive turnaround?
Last year, Eastern Greene held just two teams under 42 points, so it’s an obvious target for improvement.
Wray hopes he can keep the middle of the line clogged up with his 370-pounders, Darrel Burton and Newby at NG. Bryce Teague gives him another big body at either tackle for end, with juniors Colten Adams and Lane Clark also up front.
Behind them are inside backers Ferkingstad, Brody Teague and outside backers Peyton Lewis, junior Brayden Campbell and senior Reilly Arwine-Vires. James Lewis will split time there and at safety. The secondary also includes junior Evan Rogers and Deckard at safety and Cummings, Stephens and junior Payton Foster at the corner spots. So getting helmets to the ball quickly should not be a problem.
Their versatility and athleticism will give him a chance to keep quick legs on the field all game.
Are there any concerns on special teams?
Nope. Junior Zac West is back to handle the kicking duties, kickoffs, punting and place kicking, and there's a plethora of athletes to choose from for return men.
Aug. 19: Springs Valley, 7 p.m.; Aug. 26: at North Knox, 7 p.m.; Sept. 2: North Daviess, 7 p.m.; Sept. 9: Mitchell, 7 p.m.; Sept. 16: at Clarksville, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 23: Paoli, 7 p.m.; Sept. 30: Owen Valley, 7 p.m.; Oct. 7: at Linton, 7 p.m.; Oct. 14: at North Central, 7 p.m.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: IHSAA football: 5 burning questions for Eastern Greene football