Jackson: New line, same old Zweigart
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Senior running back Adam Zweigart is on a mission to help lead the Indians to their first football state title in school history.
"I think our team's goal is that we're going to actually make it through the playoffs this time and we're going to win state this year," Zweigart said. "I'm calling it. We're going. And we're winning."
Zweigart dashed for 1,751 yards on 215 carries and scored 17 touchdowns while leading Jackson to an undefeated regular season (10-0) and a trip to the Class 5 state semifinal, where the Indians lost to Waynesville 25-14 last fall.
Zweigart, the 2007 Southeast Missourian football player of the year and a first-team all-state selection at running back, wants to take it one step further this year. But he will have to do it with a new offensive line.
The entire 2007 line, including first-team all-state guard Brian Hill, graduated.
"We did have a lot of places to fill, but I think we're filling them fine this year," Zweigart said. "I don't think we're going to have a big problem with offense."
The 6-foot, 180-pound Zweigart does not feel like he has anything to prove with a different line blocking for him. He's confident he and his new line will do the job.
"We just need to get pumped up and ready to play," Zweigart said.
First-year coach Van Hitt said his team will run the football a lot, just like the program has done in the past.
Some of his formations will be different, but the Indians will be a run-first and pass-second team.
Hitt accepted the position as head coach after Carl Gross resigned in January. Gross posted a 137-69 record in 19 years. Hitt was an assistant coach with the Indians since 1979 and the defensive coordinator at Jackson for the past 19 seasons.
Hitt promoted assistant Nathan Norman to offensive coordinator.
"[Norman] is pretty much in the same page as coach Gross was with the offense," Hitt said. "We are primarily a run-based team. We're probably going to continue that way because that's where most of our talent lies in the running game versus the passing game. But we're going to try to incorporate more passing into it. Possibly more vertical passing and try to get the field stretched a little bit."
Junior Blake Fields (5-9, 190 pounds), likely will play center. Seniors Luke Brown (5-9, 175), Matt Brown (6-1, 215), Jake Wolpers (6-0, 230) and juniors Alex Parker (6-1, 235) and Max McNeely (6-3, 235 pounds) likely all will see time on the offensive line.
"It might be a little tougher on [Zweigart]," junior Cole Rodgers said discussing the new line. "But he's a nice running back, so I don't think he'll have big trouble with it. I mean, he'll have to show a little bit more, but I think he can handle it."
Zweigart set the bar for running backs in Southeast Missouri with several dominant performances last year. He averaged 8.14 yards per carry and 145.9 yards per game. He rushed for 153 yards and three touchdowns in the Indians' first three offensive series against Sikeston. He dashed for 155 yards on just six carries against Seckman.
While Zweigart dominated throughout 2007, he did share time with then-senior Cody Randen, who ran for 671 yards on 131 carries.
Zweigart again likely will not carry the full load. Hitt said he was impressed with two other backs — Rodgers and senior Mitchell McCulley — during offseason workouts.
Rodgers primarily played defense last fall, recording 83 tackles and one sack at linebacker. He was a running back in eighth and ninth grade.
Rodgers said he is not sure how much he will be used, but added he might be asked to carry the ball in short-yardage situations. Meanwhile, McCulley was not a regular starter on offense or defense last fall.
Senior Andy Winkleblack returns as the starting fullback. He slimmed down over the offseason from 250 pounds to 220 pounds.
"[Rodgers] is quick and agile, but the main thing is that he's powerful," Zweigart said. "Winkleblack slimmed down a lot. He's a lot faster than he was. But it's the same old Winkleblack. He still hits hard and blocks good."
Zweigart could play some defensive back this year, which also might require him to share some time at running back to get some rest during games.
"I think it's going to be pretty much the same as last year on how we switched off and on [at running back]," Zweigart said. "I don't know if I'm going to be playing much defense or not, but if I'm playing defense, it's going to be the same as last year. I think we're going to be the same. ... It just depends on if the coach wants to use me more as a dominant offensive player or if he just wants me to go both ways."
Senior quarterback Marcus Harris said he has confidence that the line will do its job.
"I think people are underestimating really what we have," Harris said. "We'll be better than people think this year. I think we're young, but size-wise and ability-wise, I think we're still there. So I think our line will rise to the challenge because that's what they're told to do."
Other offensive weapons
Harris returns as the quarterback after completing 56-of-126 passes for 796 yards last year. He threw 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
His two top receivers last year, James Perkins and Matt Lang, graduated. Jackson also graduated tight end Antonio Garritano.
Senior tight end Kevin Pridemore, who shared some time with Garritano last year, returns as a viable option.
Junior Taylor Kight could be used as a blocking tight end, Hitt said.
Seniors Jake Wren and Andy Zeller as well as junior Tommy Selsor will share time at wide receiver.
"We have different formations, but it's pretty much the same thing," Zweigart. "It's the same old Jackson."
at Howell CentralW8-0
vs. Parkway NorthW21-12
vs. Poplar BluffW35-21
at Parkway WestW14-6
vs. McCluer NorthW24-7
Aug. 29at Riverview Gardens
Sept. 5at Parkway South
Sept. 12at Gateway Tech
Sept. 26Hazelwood Central
Oct. 10at Poplar Bluff
Oct. 17at Eureka
Oct. 24Rockwood Summit
Record and coach since 2000