By JEFF LAMPE
For The Weekly Post
FARMINGTON – Chris Haggard looks around him and sees lots of new faces filling key roles for the Farmington football team.
A three-year starter on the line, Haggard has a simple message for those inexperienced teammates, many of whom gravitate toward the senior.
“He’s got many young guys around him and has taken them under his wing,” Coach Toby Vallas said. “But he doesn’t want to be their buddy. He wants them to be their best.”
At stake is a six-year regular season home win streak that stretches back to Aug. 28, 2015, and a 20-14 loss to Annawan-Wethersfield. That’s the last regular season game Farmington has dropped on its home field.
To avoid something similar in this year’s opener, Haggard and his young Farmer teammates will need to come together quickly. Friday’s foe Mercer County is considered to be one of the consensus favorites to win the Lincoln Trail Conference.
“They are impressive,” Vallas said of Mercer County. “They fly around, especially defensively. I’d like to have them down the road a little bit.”
That’s because Vallas thinks this Farmington team will be good in time, he just isn’t sure how long it will take to hit its stride. One half? One game? Time will tell.
“I love the group of kids we have now. They are great workers, though a little low on numbers,” Vallas said. “But we’ve never had to replace this many kids since I’ve been here.”
Haggard is optimistic. “Come Week 1, I think we’ll be ready to go,” he said. “The vibe I get, there’s a lot of talent that’s hidden still.”
The line is built around 6-foot-2, 240-pound right guard Haggard, who Vallas said “is the best player in the conference.”
“He’s one of the stronger players we’ve ever had and he’s very quick for a big guy,” Vallas said. “Offensively and defensively, he plays so solid. He’s just an excellent leader.”
Other starters on the line figure to be junior right tackle Rese Shymansky (6-1, 200), senior center Austin Utt (5-11, 185), sophomore left guard Collin Behrens (6-1, 265) and junior left tackle Virgil Haggard (5-10, 210), who Vallas said “had a great summer.”
“The line is starting to gel,” Vallas said.
Other starters back are seniors Riley Embry (5-11, 175) and Ethan Evans (6-2, 185). Both will play a variety of roles in the multi-faceted Farmington offense, with Embry a wideout/running back combo and Evans a hybrid tight end/wideout.
“He’s really a great player,” Vallas said of Evans. “Maybe one of the most underrated in the area.”
Embry had seven catches for 63 yards and eight carries for 104 yards this spring while Evans had three receptions for 51 and carried five times for 71 yards and two TDs.
In the backfield, Vallas has confidence in junior quarterback Gage Renken (6-2, 185) and senior running back Kevin Shultz (5-11, 185) – even though they have no varsity rushing or passing yards between them.
Renken is a threat to run and pass and “is going to be solid” according to Vallas. “Offensively, I feel better. I always feel better offensively.”
Another big part of the passing attack will be 6-5 senior Corbin Rutledge, who will miss the first game after having to sit out several practices for medical reasons. Rutledge had four touchdowns in seven catches last spring and averaged 25.2 yards per catch.
Shultz is better known on defense, where he is the anchor at outside linebacker. He racked up 23 tackles in four games last spring. Shymansky also saw time at outside linebacker last year and finished with seven tackles. Senior Matt Kenney (6-4, 220) is slated to be starting middle linebacker.
Haggard is the lone returnee up front at defensive tackle, where he will be flanked by junior Sam McMillin (6-3, 215) and defensive ends Brock Capitani (senior, 6-2, 220) and junior Sam Gronewold (6-1, 195).
Starting cornerbacks look to be juniors Colin Terrell (5-9, 175) and Kaden Runyon (6-0, 170) with senior Kane Fox (6-1, 170) and junior Logan Morse (6-0, 165) the top safety candidates.
Vallas said Embry and Evans will also be used on defense “wherever they are needed.”
By JEFF LAMPE