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Seneca looks to continue its playoff success

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 8:32 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014 8:34 p.m. CDT
Rob Oesterle - The Seneca offensive line works on getting out of its stance quickly during a recent practice.
Rob Oesterle - Seneca running backs go through drills at a recent practice.
Rob Oesterle - Peter Hogue will handle kicking duties as well as being a running back for the Fighting Irish this season.
Rob Oesterle - The Seneca football team hopes that catches like this will help open things up for the running game.
Rob Oesterle - Seneca offensive and defensive linemen practice staying low during recent practice drills.
Rob Oesterle - Seneca will be counting on Zach Russell to help replace some of the yards lost when 2013 Morris Daily Herald Player of the Year Bo Taylor graduated.

SENECA – The drought is over, and Seneca is tasked with making sure it stays that way, at least for another year.

These Irish are the first since the 2002 group that enter a season having made the state football playoffs the previous season. But with 16 offensive and defensive starters lost as part of a group of seniors that produced over 94 percent of Seneca’s 4,109 total yards, a repeat playoff berth will take some retooling.

Though now-senior Zach Russell attempted only five passes and rushed 13 times in 2013, he got regular playing time at quarterback. Typically the Irish used Russell when they lined up the quarterback directly under center, with 2013 Morris Daily Herald Player of the Year Bo Taylor taking the shotgun snaps. With Taylor and his 2,403 combined rushing and passing yards gone, the gig is likely to be Russell’s almost entirely.

“Now that [Taylor is] gone, obviously I have to fill his role as best I can. I know I’m going to be throwing a lot more,” Russell said. “I’ve been working really hard and feel I truly am ready. I can’t wait.”

Junior Alex Thornely’s 59 rushing yards lead all returnees.

The only player on the current roster who caught a varsity pass in 2013 is Russell – and he lost four yards on the play.

“Alex Thornely and Casey Pifer are two of the guys, but I really expect running back to be a position by committee more or less,” Seneca head coach and offensive coordinator Ted O’Boyle said. “We will have a lot of bodies rotating in and out at those skill positions.”

Seneca is not much more experienced on the offensive line. Senior center Colin Griffin is the unit’s lone returning starter, with some combination of Wyatt Aldrich, Jacob Gonzalez, Jack Coonan, Gage Phillips, Nathan Spampanato and Wyatt Rodriguez likely to surround him.

“I’ll have to be more of a leader, help the other kids out,” Griffin said. “Mostly I’ll have to do what the seniors did for me when I was the one junior up there. When I did my job, they’d pat me on the back, and when I needed to step it up, they let me know.”

Seneca does have four returning defensive starters. O’Boyle feels the defensive tackle tandem of seniors Dayton Coyle and Alex Mann may comprise the strongest position on the team. The Irish also retain their 2013 starters at cornerback in junior Baley Lejawa and Russell, though Lejawa may also play at safety and Russell may move to linebacker.

Justin Ralls, Kale Walsh and Lucas Ward are battling for playing time at defensive end and candidates to start at linebacker include Bryce Coyle, Thornely, Russell, Walsh and Pifer.

“I would definitely say we did lose some quality defenders,” O’Boyle said, “but in Dayton Coyle and Alex Mann, we have two defensive tackles who will be very instrumental in us replacing them.”

The Irish may be short on experience, but they are not short on depth. Seventy players assumed spots in the program when practice began Aug. 11, including 38 juniors and seniors. O’Boyle attributes the “phenomenal number” at least partially to the team’s 2013 success.

Whether the numbers translate into more winning remains to be seen, but O’Boyle is optimistic.

“We have some quality kids who, in some cases, happened to be behind some very talented players and that’s why they didn’t get their turn. They’re getting their turn now,” O’Boyle said. “It won’t be easy, but making the playoffs is a legitimate goal for this group.”

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