MEDFORD — Football is a battle of attrition, and there are few programs that understand this more than the Medford Tigers.
After a strong start that included three straight wins to begin the 2018 campaign, the wheels began to wobble toward the middle of the season as a number of frontline players were forced to the sideline due to injury. By the time the Tigers reached the Section 2-AA tournament against second-seeded NRHEG, they were down to their fourth-string tailback and lined up against the sizable Panthers without three starting offensive linemen. Considering how many of the injured players saw action on both sides of the ball, the personnel losses were catastrophic.
Despite everything that was stacked against then, though, Medford never quit, trading blows with the eventual section champs for the better part of three quarters before eventually allowing 22 unanswered points in 42-20 loss on the road.
With 10 months to digest not only the season-ending loss, but the entire 2018 season as a whole, it was reaffirmed to long-time head coach Jerome Johannes that keeping his players upright and healthy will be paramount to his team’s success moving forward. He certainly has the horses to surprise some teams in the Mid Southeast District this fall and win a couple playoff games, but none of that is going to matter if they’re in street clothes by Week 6.
“I think it was pretty evident last season when we played New Richland when we had three offensive linemen down; we were down to our fourth tailback in that game and we were hanging with them all the way through the third quarter,” Johannes said after practice on Thursday morning. “But that’s when it killed us. As soon as that depth came in, that’s when we became a little more vulnerable. I think that’s where our younger guys — the freshman and sophomores that are better this year than in year’s past —will step in. Our job is to keep everyone as healthy as possible. It’s football and anything can happen, but if we do stay healthy, will be pretty dangerous.”
Medford’s primary depth will come from a large freshman and sophomore crop of players that have enjoyed a great deal of success coming up through the ranks. The current incoming freshman didn’t lose a game at the junior high level last fall and a number of sophomores were thrust into emergency playing time at the varsity level in 2018.
So far, Johannes likes what he’s seen through four days and has already noticed his younger players turning a corner. Upperclassmen such as Jerone Chavis, Zach Wetmore, Willie VonRuden and Kael Hermanstorfer have aided in the development of the youthful core as both parties understand just how important the other is to the Tiger’s chances this year.
“Camp is going well,” Johannes said. “Our young guys have had some really good success over the last couple years at the junior high level and a couple of them even were able to be a part of the varsity for practices (in 2018) so they could see some of our stuff hands-on. They are really picking it up fast and with them it’s about confidence. The varsity guys, some of them have been doing this for four years. They know exactly what practice looks like and they are really fast. They are hungry for more plays; they are never satisfied after each practice, and I think that’s a good thing. They also known how important those underclassmen are to this team.”
Per usual, Medford’s schedule was reset this year and looks starkly different compared to the past couple of seasons. In 2018, the first half was a bit softer than the final four games while this year the Tigers open with St. Clair (8-2) and follow with a stretch of games that features four opponents in five weeks that won at least one playoff game apiece in 2018.
Essentially, there will be no slow-burn. The Tigers better be ready to pounce starting in Week 1.
“We would like to get everything in by that scrimmage (Aug. 24 at Pine Island),” Johannes said. “We want to be able to show our fronts and show everything we have on offense. Some teams like to hold things back, but I don’t think we necessarily like to do that. I think we like to throw everything out there and see what everything brings us. So if we can get everything in before then, I think we will be in a pretty good position for Week 1. We were close in every game (last year) and that gives us the confidence that we need, so going into the season, I hope that shows because our schedule is a little tougher this season.”