COAL CITY – Last season, the Coal City football team finished 5-5, earning a spot in the Class 4A playoffs before bowing out in a 33-14 first-round loss to Quincy Notre Dame on the road.
Although a bulk of the offensive has graduated with the loss of quarterback Brennan Shetina and receiver Nick Peters, the Coalers have reason for optimism that 2014 promises to shape up as a better year.
As with most teams, it starts up front, and that’s where the strength of the Coaler team lies, according to coach Lenny Onsen.
“Right now, I would say that the strongest part of our team is the offensive line,” said Onsen, who sports a 107-47 record in his 14 seasons as the Coalers’ head coach. “Matt Long and Curtis Smith will return as starters for us there, and they have done a great job being leaders for this group. Andrew Mathena is another guy who saw a lot of playing time that will be returning on the line for us, too.
“We have good size up front, but we are still trying to figure out where everyone fits the best.”
The big boys up front – Long is 6-foot-5 and weights between 300 and 305 pounds and Smith and Mathena aren’t far behind – will pave the way for speedster Jack Dibble to run out of the backfield. Dibble has missed most of the past two seasons with separate ACL injuries, but enters camp healthy this year.
“I have been real pleased with Jack’s comeback,” Onsen said. “He is ahead of schedule from his last ACL injury, and he looks 100 percent. I knew he was fine when we had a camp for little kids earlier this summer, and he was darting around with them. You know how you play with kids and you move back and forth real quick trying to dodge them? Jack was doing that and having a great time with them and wasn’t worried at all about how his knee would hold up.
“A lot of times with an ACL, you can still run in a straight line, but you have trouble with the cuts, but I don’t see Jack having any problems cutting at all right now. That’s a huge plus for us because he gives us that big-play ability any time he touches the ball.”
Dibble is pumped for the season to start and to get back on the field.
“My knees feel great,” he said. “They are 100 percent. I haven’t played a full game in a long time, so I just hope to get out there and score some touchdowns. I haven’t scored one since sophomore year.
“I just know that I feel great right now. There isn’t even a hint of doubt when I try to make a move.”
Long also is excited to be blocking for Dibble.
“I get chills when you mention Jack Dibble being back,” Long said. “He is just a playmaker. If he gains 20 yards, I’m disappointed in the kid that he didn’t go farther, maybe take it all the way.
“We have looked good early on. Our goal every year is to win every game, but we learned last year that we have to take things one game at a time. You can’t look ahead. You have to prepare for each week and win that week. So, even though you want to win every game, you have to worry about each week that week.”
Anchoring the defense for the Coalers will be linebacker Parker Czaja, along with Long on the defensive line and D.J. Budde in the secondary. Onsen, the defensive coordinator, likes things that way.
“I always try to have a returning starter on every level of the defense,” he said. “On the line, the linebackers and the secondary. They help keep things in order out on the field.
“Parker Czaja is a very good linebacker and he will be our anchor in the middle. Matt will play on the D-line, and D.J. and Cory Jurzak are both good defensive backs that we have returning.”
“We know the defense has to be a little better this year,” Czaja said. “But, we have some good defensive backs, and we will have some huge guys on the line to help stop the run. I think we should have a good year. If we take things one game at a time, hopefully we can get a playoff game or two at home and win them. That would be a nice way to end my senior year.”