FORT WAYNE – When it comes time for Manchester and Trine to share Fred Zollner Stadium in Angola this evening, there will be more than the width of the field that separates the two teams.
Trine is beginning its season locked, loaded and with beaucoup experience.
And as for Manchester?
This year our challenge is going to be our youth, Spartans coach Shannon Griffith said. We graduated 18 seniors a year ago, and we only have seven this year. Were going to be more of a sophomore and junior-laden team this year than we are a junior/senior-laden team.
And so 2012 kicks off for the two teams that open their respective seasons with the annual Thursday night showdown: Trine, with 15 starters returning from last years 7-3 team, and Manchester, with most of last years starters gone from the team that was 2-8 and finished the season with seven consecutive losses.
Seventh-year coach Matt Land doesnt know exactly where to begin when he starts reciting the individual talent that is returning.
We have a lot, Land said. The offensive skill guys, I think were loaded.
But he opens with JaVontae Hence, the 5-foot-8, 193-pound senior who is listed as a wide receiver but will be found everywhere on the field.
When you talk about our offense, youve got to start with JaVontae, Land said. Hes a four-year starter. Hes stronger and more powerful, and has the same quickness and burst.
Hence had 46 receptions last season for 648 yards and six touchdowns. He had another touchdown rushing. And he averaged 28 yards per kick return, with yet another touchdown.
The player assigned with the task of getting the ball to Hence will be senior quarterback Ryan Hargraves, who completed 65 percent of his passes last season for 1,773 yards and 17 touchdowns.
On defense, where seven starters return, there is Myron Puryear II, a 5-10 senior cornerback who had five interceptions, had 12 pass deflections and recovered a pair of fumbles.
I believe he is the best corner in Division III in the nation, Land said.
Manchesters most recognizable returning player, meanwhile, is versatile senior Kurt Monix, who played quarterback early in his career but has since moved to wide receiver. Monix had 24 receptions for 303 yards last season, and had a rushing touchdown.
Much of Manchesters experience comes from the offensive line in starters Eric Courter, Adam Cantwell, Cody Larimore and Tom Webster.
Id rather have the experience at the offensive line than be experienced at the skill spots, Griffith said.
While sophomore Austin Adams and former East Noble standout Tyler Truex, a freshman, will be asked to carry the ball, Griffith isnt ready to commit to one quarterback yet.
Nick (Williams) will probably play, and then well go from there, Griffith said.