Forgive St. Vincent football coach Keith Winkler if he seems a bit out of sorts this month.
First, he is trying to turn around the Indians following their first losing season in Winkler's eight years.
And now, he has just three weeks from the opening of practice to the opening of the season to get the Indians on track.
"I'm kind of scratching my head over what we're going to do," Winkler said. "I'm not used to this. I'm used to a little more of an evaluation period."
The Indians come into 2008 with almost the completely opposite situation as last year, when they had plenty of linemen returning but few experienced skilled position players.
They stumbled to 4-6, losing to St. Pius by two points and Class 1 District 1 rival Chaffee by three points. Those losses were less expected than decisions against Class 3 Park Hills Central, Class 2 semifinalist Maplewood, Class 2 quarterfinalist Crystal City and Class 1 quarterfinalist Hayti.
The Indians will have their hands full again with Maplewood, the Mississippi Area Football Conference Blue Division favorite.
"Bryant Allen is being recruited by Mizzou for football and basketball," Winkler said. "I saw him as a freshman and I got tired of watching him back then."
The biggest change on the schedule is the opener, where a home game with Caruthersville (0-10 last year) replaces a meeting with Joplin McAuley Catholic. St. Vincent won last year's meeting with McAuley, but Winkler wondered if the trip to the southwest corner of the state didn't hurt his team in the long run.
"It was a good experience for the kids, but we got in at 3 or 4 in the morning and it just wasn't conducive," he said. "It may have played a factor in our season last year. I don't know; I'm grasping at straws.
"Even before the gas prices, we kind of looked at that game. We could travel the whole year for what we traveled to that game."
Winkler knows that when his team takes the field in the opener, he will have experience at quarterback, receiver and running back.
"We have some skill-position kids who are coming back who are experienced," he said, "and we have some other kids who aren't very experienced at positions all over the field — offensive line and defensive line. Some of the kids have picked it up real well. Now it's just a matter of executing when the lights are on."
Darin Yamnitz, a senior who took over the quarterback duties during the season last year, finished with 539 yards passing and nine touchdowns to five interceptions. He completed 33 of 72 passes for a 45.8 percent completion rate.
Justin L'Hote, also a senior, caught eight passes for 182 yards last year, and has a two-year total of 21 catches for 404 yards.
The focal point of the offense, however, will be the running game as Winkler intends to use the formula that has brought the most success during four state playoff appearances and one championship (2004): a big running back.
This year, that means 6-foot, 210-pound senior Dylan Moll, who rushed for 307 yards on 65 carries (4.7 per carry) last year.
"Dylan is by far our biggest back and I expect him to carry the load," Winkler said. "He's going to move around and play some fullback or tailback depending what sets we're running. We like to run the ball because when the playoffs come, you better be able to do it. With the weather in the area, you never know what you're going to get."
C.J. Pavlovsky and Lee Prost also will run the ball.
With Yamnitz, L'Hote and receivers Zach Welch and Aaron Dzik, the Indians have the ingredients to put together a passing game to complement the run.
"I hope we can," Winkler said. "We're going to try to do that, then they can't sit on one thing."
But if St. Vincent's offense is going to be able to do anything, the offensive line will have to prove it is up to the task. Adam Buchheit is a third-year starter at guard, while center Austin Davis and guard Clint Brown also saw time on the line last year.
"It's going to take some building," Winkler said. "We've got a little experience up there, but we need to bring some people along in other positions and get them working as a unit."
Those people will include tackles Matt Schnurbusch, Dylan Geringer, Cory Schaaf and James Steele.
And with St. Vincent's enrollment low in boys in the freshman and sophomore classes, players will see a lot of time on both sides of the ball.
"They're going to have to," Winkler said. "We're not real deep this year."
L'Hote played in the defensive backfield along with Dzik, Welch and Matt Hotop; Moll saw some time at linebacker along with Justin Eggers; and Buchheit played defensive tackle.
The Indians surrendered 211 points last year, and the majority came in three games — Maplewood (35), Crystal City (39) and Hayti (64).
With the accelerated preseason schedule to accommodate an extra round of playoffs for two teams from each district, Winkler, now the longest continuously serving coach at any of the six local schools, said there may be more to achieving success than the offseason work.
"It may also be the coaching staff that adjusts to this the best," he said.
at Joplin McAuleyW27-7
vs. Park Hills CentralL12-3
at Festus St. PiusL22-21
at Crystal CityL39-20
Aug. 29Caruthersville7 p.m.
Sept. 5at Park Hills Central7 p.m.
Sept. 12at Valle7 p.m.
Sept. 19at Maplewood-Richmond Heights7 p.m.
Sept. 26St. Pius7:30 p.m.
Oct. 3Crystal City7 p.m.
Oct. 10at Grandview7 p.m.
Oct. 17Chaffee7 p.m.
Oct. 24at Portageville7 p.m.
Oct. 30Hayti7 p.m.
The decade so far