DUNLAP — Concord football coach Craig Koehler has been able to focus on football this pre-season and not the chemistry troubles he dealt with for much of 2018.
And that could be bad news for the Northern Lakes Conference.
"It's been a good couple weeks of practice, which is nice because last year was so tumultuous from week-to-week,'' Koehler said. "I felt like I was constantly putting out fires and those things can really wear on you. This year has been much more enjoyable and things feel right again.
"We were just a slogan last year ... we didn't live up to what we say we are here at Concord. The key will be how we handle the first adversity we face this season, but I feel good that this group will do well.''
Despite fighting some tough issues, the Minutemen did win the Class 5A sectional last season, beating Elkhart Central 17-14 in the title game. Their season ended the next week in the wind and cold at Michigan City.
Concord does have some outstanding offensive weapons back, led by the one-two punch of seniors Ethan Cain at quarterback and halfback Carter Neveraski.
Playing both running back and halfback, Neveraski was a member of The Truth's All-Area team in 2018 after rushing for 998 yards and nine touchdowns, while also throwing for 573 yards and five more scores.
Cain returns to full health this season, after missing time last year recovering from an ACL injury he suffered in basketball. He would end the season completing 94 of his 174 passes for 1,225 yards and nine touchdowns.
"Ethan isn't even wearing a brace this season, which is a big positive and he looks stronger too,'' Koehler said. "He's put in a tremendous amount of time trying to improve. He's one of the kids that has worked the hardest in the off-season. There were a number of times that I would drive past the field on a Saturday or Sunday and see him out there working.''
In addition the Neveraski, Koehler believe the Concord backs and receivers should be one of the strengths of the team.
Senior Roemello Moon rushed for five touchdowns last season for Concord, while Grayson Mast and sophomore Chris Taylor will also see time in the backfield. Sophomore Amarion Moore, who caught three touchdown passes as a sophomore, has great size at 6-foot-3, 175. Braedon Taylor is also back at wide receiver, while Koehler has liked what he's seen of sophomores Jack D'Arcy and Anthony Roberts.
"Overall, I think our running backs are as strong as I've seen here in awhile,'' Koehler admitted. "We have some really good pieces and kids that will give us a change of pace back there. Plus, our depth is strong at wide receiver too.''
Koehler hinted that he will use Neveraski as a quarterback at times too.
"He's just too good back there to not use him some,'' Koehler said.
Perhaps Concord's biggest question mark is in the offensive line, where the Minutemen have just one starter – senior Drew Smeltzer – returning.
"We're extremely inexperienced up front,'' Koehler said. "Some of them have played a little varsity football, but our opener against (South Bend) St. Joseph will be their first meaningful action with the bright lights shining.''
Things are better on the defensive side of the football, where Concord has eight starters returning, including linebackers Mast and Spencer Arnold, who were second and third on the team in tackles last season.
Neveraski, Moon and Jamyris Rice all return in the defensive backfield, where Neveraski had three picks last season, while Moon had two. Smeltzer will be back in the line, along with Colton Barton and JenDariun Greer.
The Minutemen should also have one of the state's best kickers in senior Ariel DeLaPaz. DeLaPaz hit all 35 of his extra points last season, while adding 11-of-15 field goals. He'll also does the punting for Concord.
"This may not be the most talented team we've had here, but we have the pieces and a chance to be real good if we continue to approach the day-to-day things as well as we have,'' Koehler said. "The key will be how well we develop on the offensive line and can we win the turnover battle. It will be important that our defense can set the offense up for some short fields.''
2018: 6-6 (4-3 NLC)
Aug. 23: at SB St. Joseph
Aug: 30: Elkhart Memorial (C)
Sept: 6: NorthWood (C)
Sept. 13: at Wawasee (C)
Sept. 20: at Goshen (C)
Sept. 27: Jimtown
Oct. 4: at Plymouth (C)
Oct. 11: Northridge (C)
Oct. 18: Warsaw (C)