Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 29, 2013

Titans will rely on offensive line

By JAMES COOK jcook@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Tyler Town is a large individual.

At 250 pounds, he makes many people seem downright diminutive.

So when you consider that he is the lightest — yes, you read that right — player on the Traverse City West offensive line, it's kind of a surprise.

"I'm one of the smallest on the line. It makes me feel bad," Town joked.

Obviously, that line is expected to a be a strength for the Titans, who are trying to literally live up to their mascot's big ways.

Some spots are a little up in the air, but West's line could be left tackle Thiyo Lukusa (6-5, 300 pounds), Connor Hayes (6-3, 295), Town at center, Tommy Roush (6-3, 270) and Jake Cerny (6-4, 260).

"We've got a big offensive line," wide receiver Geordon Carter said. "I think everyone around town knows that. We've got a lot of good skill players and two good, young quarterbacks competing for that job. Hopefully, we'll be running the ball a lot."

Then he thinks about it a second, remembers that he plays wide receiver, and corrects himself a bit. "I don't know why I said, 'Run the ball,'" he jokes.

And three of those players are sophomores — Lukusa, Roush and Cerny.

"They have a heck of a lot of potential, but they definitely need to prove they can play with us," Town said. "They've got the size and strength.

"We have a lot of talent, but we need to focus it in and step it up from where our practices are. We really need to improve."

Hayes has signed with Pittsburgh, Lukusa already has a scholarship offer from Michigan State despite not starting a game on varsity, Roush is getting Division 1 looks and head coach Tom Wooer said Cerny will be getting recruited soon enough.

Head coach Tim Wooer tries to temper expectations, but it's also evident that he's excited about the unit's potential to dominate games.

"We're not where we want to be right now," Wooer said. "We looked good in some 7-on-7 stuff. Not quite so good as we put pads on. Unfortunately, games are not won in helmets and shorts. We look great hitting dummies, but we've struggled playing with leverage and against live defenders. On paper, we look good. But people have to remember, we're young. We could have three sophomore offensive linemen. Regardless of if they have offers from Michigan State or Toledo or wherever, they're still sophomores. Those universities made those offers based on what they're going to be as seniors, not what they are right now. ... They're making great strides and I'm excited about those kids, but everybody's got to be careful to not put too much pressure on them, because they're still 15-year-old kids.

"We're good, but we're not phenomenal by any means right now."

After growing up in Traverse City, Roush recently moved back after he and his father lived in Petoskey for several years. "Tommy is a good kid," Petoskey coach Kerry VanOrman said. "A real hard worker. I think he'll do well there."

Cerny went through a growth spurt and put himself in the massive group.

"I thought I'd be playing with the same line I'd been playing behind since seventh grade," senior running back Grant Balino said. "It's nice to have a couple people move here that are pretty big."

The line is so strong that two starters from last year are being moved. Alec Coolman, who was the left tackle, is now playing tight end opposite Octavion Waugh. And Wilson Unke, who was the opening-game center before suffering a broken femur, is moving to the defensive line.

"Coming into the summer, I was looking at some of the guys we're playing with," Waugh said. "They're getting really big over time. It's really cool what the weight room and eating a lot can do to you. We have a lot of depth on our O-line."

The rest of the offense is a little more up in the air.

Jeff Turnquist and Zach McGuire are battling for the quarterback spot, although a hamstring injury has forced McGuire to miss much of preseason work and may put him behind in the competition.

Balino steps in to replace Griffin Forrester, who led the team with 853 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns. Balino gained 198 yards, scored eight touchdowns and averaged 3.9 yards a carry. Fullback Grant Ellison returns after gaining 326 yards as a freshman. Max Ludka and Ryan Schaub will get some carries to spell Balino.

Gone are both starting wide receivers, Tyler Johnson (454 yards, 4 TDs) and Dustin Tucker (209 yards, 4 TDs). Carter slides over from tight end, where he was the team's second-leading pass-catcher with 398 yards, and McGuire could fill the other wideout spot if Turnquist takes the QB job.

The defense loses a lot, but also had plenty of talent coming in.

Defensive end James Peck, Carter and McGuire are the only full-time starters back. Jordan Stevenson, who played a lot at linebacker last season, is starting at corner opposite McGuire.

Town and Zac Schwert take over at defensive tackle, while the linebackers will be Jacob Benker, Ellison and Keegan Kenny, and J.J. Breithaupt and Carter handle the safety spots.

"I think we're a little ahead of the game defensively," Wooer said. "We lost eight seniors, and that was really a point of concern. But the kids that we've got over there are fiery, tough kids and they've had a great preseason."

West's second win of the season will be the program's 100th in its 17th year.

"I'd definitely like to go 9-0," Town said. "It'd be a heck of a way to go out in our senior year. And then make it a ways in the playoffs."

Waugh went one step further.

"I'd really like to go 14-0 — really make a run in the playoffs," Waugh said. "It'd be pretty sweet our senior year to end with a bang. Last year, we played Rockford (in the playoffs) and it was really sad for everybody seeing graduating seniors crying."

The TC Central game is in week 3 this year, but that's only part of what makes the schedule so interesting — and difficult.

West's slate contains seven teams who had winning records last year. Six made the playoffs, and those teams combined to win eight postseason contests.

That includes starting out the season against teams that were 11-1, 8-4 and 9-2, plus later non-conference dates against 11-2 Comstock Park and 8-2 Allendale.