Success in high school football is a difficult thing to sustain from one season to the next. Like college programs, high school teams have to deal with frequent roster turnover due to players lost to graduation, but unlike their collegiate brethren high schools don’t have the luxury of nationwide recruiting or redshirt seasons. At the prep level, recruitment is limited to whatever students happen to attend your school, and four years per player is all you get.
Inevitably, coaches are forced to fill gaps left by talented seniors with lesser replacements, and the team suffers as a result. After going 13-1 last year and falling just short of a state championship (the one loss being a 47-14 defeat in the championship game at the hands of the Lake Oswego Lakers), the Sheldon High Irish said goodbye to several key starters, including quarterback Dillon Miller, the son of former Oregon quarterback and NFL first round pick Chris Miller. But if the Irish varsity squad was hurt in any way by the loss of those players, it sure didn’t show in their scrimmage last Saturday versus the varsity scout team.
After some warm-up drills, Sheldon’s fall scrimmage began with some special teams reps. The punter, junior Mitchell Herbert, consistently placed the ball between forty and forty-five yards downfield. Herbert clearly has a strong enough leg to launch his punts much farther than that, but the forty-yard range appears to be the sweet spot in which his distance and hang time are maximized. Not once did he outkick his coverage unit, and if he can maintain that consistency Sheldon should have no trouble pinning opposing offenses deep in their own territory all season long.
Senior Tyler Osborne did a respectable job as the placekicker on kickoffs, placing the ball between the ten and twenty yard line. With the exception of one play, Sheldon’s coverage unit did an excellent job of getting downfield quickly and limiting return yardage. On that play, senior Mitch Carman fielded the ball at the ten, then juked his way upfield before being tackled at the fifty yard line.
After special teams, the offense took the field. Judging by the enthusiastic reactions of the crowd, this was clearly the unit everyone had come to see, and after watching a few plays it was easy to see why. Sheldon’s offense is of the spread variety, with plenty of empty backfield sets, option reads, man-in-motion, and designed QB keepers, but despite all those moving parts the offensive unit performed like a well-oiled machine.
The sheer variety and creativity of the offense was on full display from the very first play. Starting from a five-wide formation, the Irish put senior wide receiver Connor Strahm in motion across the formation, and as he neared the center of the line, the ball was snapped and handed off to him. Just like that, a play run out of a formation that almost invariably means a pass is imminent had morphed into a thundering sweep well executed enough to please even Vince Lombardi.
Strahm, who has been drawing plenty of interest from college recruiters, was able to consistently get separation from defenders on his routes and had no trouble catching the ball whenever it was thrown his way, and senior Luke Allender proved he could seal off defensive backs on run plays and turn short receptions into long touchdowns with equal aplomb. But the main attraction on offense was senior quarterback Taylor Allie.
For starters, Allie is a gifted runner. On designed QB keepers and scrambles on broken plays alike, he showed that he has the speed to consistently turn the corner and the evasiveness to snake his way through defenders for long touchdown runs whenever he takes off with the ball.
Like most mobile quarterbacks, he appears to have a tendency to give up on plays too early before scrambling out of the pocket, but when he did stay back to pass he displayed good accuracy and decision-making, rarely putting the ball in a spot where a defender could make a play on it. Allie’s completion percentage hovered around 50% on the day, but more of his incompletions appeared to be caused by dropped catches than errant throws.
On defense, the Irish alternated between three and four down linemen with a group of four or more linebackers and safeties lurking just behind. With so many defenders lined up to play the run, the defense was able to maintain gap control with ease on running plays, displaying great patience as they strung out plays to the sidelines and forced ball carriers to come to them.
More impressively, the defense was able to stack the box and still maintain solid coverage downfield; the JV offense was able to pull in a few long passes, but overall the defense tallied more deflections than the opposing offense did completions.
Nearly every varsity defensive player managed to get in a highlight play or two during the scrimmage, but junior linebacker Paul Faulhaber, defensive end Brett Nielsen, and junior defensive back Mitch Lewis all turned in especially impressive performances. No matter the direction or design of the offensive play call, those three always managed to be swarming around the ball wherever it happened to end up.
On Friday, Sheldon High will kick off their season with a home game against Southridge. Kickoff is scheduled for seven o’clock. Check in Saturday morning for a complete recap of Friday night’s action.