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Mustangs working on the basics

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By Brad Stephens

GOSHEN – North Oldham’s run-based offense may look “old-fashioned” to outsiders, according to coach Billy Martin.

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But within that offense are a number of variations in formations, blocks and handoffs that have to be practiced repetitively.

Once North players learn the system, it becomes ingrained in their memories, Martin said.

“It’s like riding a bike,” said Martin, entering his ninth year as the Mustangs’ head football coach. “A lot of kids are graduated, out of college two years, and they’ll come out here and goof around in practice, run the same steps, yell at themselves for not taking the right steps... It sticks.”

Getting younger players acclimated to North’s offensive and defensive systems is one of the team’s primary goals for this month’s spring practice period.

Quarterback Taylor Heckenberg, a rising senior, said a productive spring gets younger players ready once camp rolls around this July.

“Our offense is a lot of trickery where little steps matter because it’s all based on formations and what not,” Heckenberg said. “To have little kids memorize those steps and get it down pat, it really helps our offense.”

The offensive backfield is one area where rising sophomores and juniors are getting their chances to earn reps.

The team’s leading rusher last season, Arien Beasley, and veteran running back Chris Webb are playing lacrosse this spring, meaning younger guys are getting practice work in their absence.

“It helps develop depth,” Martin said. “…It’s really good we can concentrate on them.”

There’s a three-way competition for the quarterback job. Heckenberg, who split QB reps last year with Keenan Dowd, is battling with left-handed rising senior David Schmidt and rising sophomore Bryce Webb.

Schmidt “has improved tremendously,” Martin said, while adding that Webb is “really talented.”

“We’re all rooting for each other,” Heckenberg said of the quarterbacks. “We come out here and try to motivate each other. It’s going good.” 

Rising senior Michael McCarty will be contending for playing time both as a running back and on defense, Martin said.

Seniors-to-be Ryan Jones, Tyler Greenert and Jo Austin Pierce should anchor the offensive line, Martin said.

Rising junior Collin Portman, who had a strong wrestling season, and rising senior Mike Marquez give the Mustangs a strong presence on the defensive front, Martin said.

“There’s no reason to think we can’t be better than what we were last year,” Martin said.

North will continue practicing this week before ending its spring period later this month.

From there the players will do some more weightlifting and work 7-on-7 drills before the 2014 season officially starts this summer.

Spring practice is an important step in that offseason cycle, Jones said.

“It feels great to get the pads back on and prepare for next season,” Jones said. “We’re helping the younger kids learn the first steps of football, so it’s good.”