Casey County football ready for second act

Published 2:22 pm Thursday, July 6, 2017

Last year was an historic season for Casey County football to be sure — four team records were set in only its fourth winning season in program history.

And as much as that season will live on in the history books, that’s exactly what it is, history. So where do the Rebels go from here?

The expectations and the way the program is viewed has changed. In the 10 seasons prior to coach Steve Stonebraker’s return to Liberty, the Rebels went 36-62 with two playoff wins. They had never won double-digit games in a season and had never finished 3the year ranked in The Associated Press state poll; they finished seventh in last year’s Class 3A poll.

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“They know we have the ability to be successful,” Stonebraker said. “We have the ability to attract kids who want to play football, want to put in work in a system that can be successful. All of that helps move the program in the right direction.

“Coming off the season we had last year, we have guys coming back from that team who were key players, it does raise the level of expectations in preseason compared to what we had last year, where people thought we could be successful, now they know we can be successful. There’s expectations there to be able to produce and do some positive things.”

Get the two big losses out of the way: Casey graduated a record-setting duo in quarterback Breece Hayes and running back Collin Miller. Hayes threw for 2,594 yards and 27 touchdowns, adding 550 yards and 10 TDs on the ground, while Miller totaled 1,020 yards and 14 TDs through the air and another 386 and eight in the rushing attack.

But the cupboard isn’t exactly bare. They’re returning three receivers in Preston Tucker, Britt Pendleton and 6-foot-7 Dustin Richards who combined to catch 99 passes for 1,475 yards and 14 scores. Also back is Dalton Summers and his 289 rushing yards and seven TDs.

“The thing you always try to do is accentuate strength of your personnel and try to hide the weaknesses you may have,” Stonebraker said. “… Offensively, we’re going to do the same things we did last year. … As far as our receiving corps goes, we have guys back who can do some things for us.”

Many eyes will be on quarterback, where Austin Campbell steps into the role. Last year, Campbell completed 10-of-11 passes for 211 yards and two scores while not throwing an interception.

“We’re going to be capable offensively,” Stonebraker said. “But we’re maybe going to be getting our explosive plays in a little different fashion.”

Whereas last year the Rebels relied upon their offense, Stonebraker said this year’s squad will be led by its defense, where eight starters return.

Linebacker A.J. Glenn led the team with 97 tackles a year ago while defensive back Dalton Lawrence had 80, third most on the team. Pendleton had three interceptions.

Last year, the Rebels gave up 267 yards and 21.6 points per game. Stonebraker expects those numbers to drop in his second season back at Casey.

“Last year when we got early leads and did things to try to ensure we got off good starts, that was all designed protect our defense,” Stonebraker said. “It’s going to be the other way around. It’s easier to play defense with a lead, so we were really adamant about coming out of the gate well. This year we should be a lot better on the defensive side of the ball.”

It’s an adjustment most high school coaches are accustomed to, shaping and refiguring their game plans based upon the strengths and weaknesses of their teams.

“This will be my 17th year as a high school coach and you have to be adaptable, that’s one of the big things I’ve learned that I tell younger coaches,” Stonebraker said. “You can’t be afraid of change. You’re going to have to do that every year based upon the personnel you have and the types of teams you have to beat.”

So far in offseason workouts, Stonebraker has seen a new confidence in his players. But more than that, he sees a willingness to work and a belief in the system the coaches are preaching.

“Whenever you win you get a lot easier buy-in to what you’re doing” Stonebraker said. “The psychological part of that with the confidence, it’s due to the buy-in because the kids have seen the success, so they know they can have that success if they do X, Y and Z. That’s been important to us this offseason with the strength gains we’ve made this offseason and new kids coming into the program.”

It goes further down the line than just the current roster, too. Stonebraker, who was named athletic director at Casey on Wednesday, has a two-part plan — the first concerns the current crop of Rebels in the high school, and the second is focused on the players in the youth leagues.

The football program will hold youth nights and practices, where the younger players can come out and work next to the high school players. It’s about keeping interest in the program high and even growing further.

“We’ve got a long-term plan in increasing our roster size even more and winning big down the road,” Stonebraker said. “Those younger guys, they got to see us have the best season in school history and it’s energized them. We’ve got a longer kids who’ve attended football camps outside of the county even. We’ve got a lot of excitement for football at that level and in the community even.”

Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn