The Afton Eagles enter the 2008 season with the expectations of making the playoffs and the goal of traveling deep into the post-season tournament.
The Eagles are coming off a 7-4 season in 2007 that saw them qualify for post-season action a third consecutive time.
Eagles Head Coach Zach Gardner enters his second season at the helm and is looking forward to the ’08 campaign.
“We have some depth (this year) which we haven’t had in the past,” said Gardner. “We have good numbers and speed.”
The Afton troops number 37 this season for the 2A team. Among that number is a group of returning seniors who will provide the on-field leadership necessary for success. One of those players is senior quarterback and free safety Ryan Markus.
“Ryan is a great leader and is doing a great job for us at quarterback,” Gardner said. “I believe he had almost 2,400 all-purpose yards last season.”
Defensive end and offensive tight end Shawn Free is another player that will figure heavily into the Afton hopes for ’08.
“He’s a specimen,” Gardner said of the senior, “He’s truly blessed with a lot of talent. I think you can put him in a lot of places; I’d match him up with anybody on the field. It’s great having him as an asset but we also have other people to go along with him.”
One area in particular where the Eagles run deep is the receiving corps, a great benefit for a team that operates from a spread formation offensively.
“We’re about six deep there (receivers),” said Gardner. “Tony Jarvis is a returning senior and Bryan Weaver is back. We have a couple of move-ins from Wyandotte, Magnum and Jake Mustain, and their dad is a new coach here. We’ve also got a couple of freshman kids stepping in, Brennon Fuser and Dusty Henry.
“The great thing about having depth at that position,” added Gardner, “is that they have to battle play by play. Hopefully we can keep those guys in and out and keep fresh legs on the field.”
For any of the offensive schemes to work there must be protection up front and the Eagles seem to have that base covered as well.
“Up front we’re a lot more comfortable with the blocking scheme,” Gardner said. “I look for us to put some numbers on the board.”
The offensive line for ’08 will be a blend of returning experience and promising youth.
“Right tackle is Spencer Johnston and right guard will be Tyler Blount,” said Gardner. “Left guard is Weston Andrews and left tackle will be Tyler Mackey.
“Center is still kind of up in the air,” said the coach. “We’ve got a couple of kids battling for that position with Brooks Victor and Jacob Atchison.”
The offense is rounded out by tailback T.J. Korb.
“Korb is back for this season,” Gardner said. “He was a state qualifier in the 100-meters last year and we hope to turn him loose.”
A number of the offensive standouts for the Eagles will also have a presence in the defensive sets, including Andrews, Korb, Markus, Jarvis, Mustain, Johnston, and Blount. Tyler Kaler will also be a mainstay in the defesive look for Afton.
Free has been a regular state leader in sacks for the past two seasons from his defensive end perch.
“He takes on a lot of double teams,” Gardner said. “If we get the double team look then somebody else ought to be freed up. We have to have everyone making plays. I expect Shawn to get his share of sacks but somebody else is going to have to (step up) for us to go to the next level.”
A new OSSAA district realignment places the Eagles in 2A District 8 this season. One consequence of that district shift is that the Eagles will have to return to Commerce, one of their toughest district rivals, for a second consecutive date on the road.
“Fairland used to be our big rival back in the days when I played but now it’s Commerce,” Gardner said. “We’re always head to head, it seems like, in the district. And we travel to Commerce again this year.”
High aspirations and the talent to see them through are the characteristics of the ’08 Eagles. Many of the ingredients necessary for success are in place and Afton fans and students are all anticipating a memorable season.