MISHAWAKA — On the second day of high school football practice, Penn stayed outside and did its work in the rain.
The weather didn’t dampen the spirit of Kingsmen football coach Cory Yeoman.
“This is always a very exciting time of year,” said Yeoman. “The schemes and that kind of stuff kind of stay the same, but the faces change. You’re excited for them and their growth and you’re excited to be back out here on the field doing what we love to do.”
Preparation has usually brought winning and championships to the Penn football program.
But 2018 was unlike most years for the Kingsmen. Penn’s streak of seven straight Northern Indiana Conference titles was snapped and their streak of five straight sectional titles was snapped, which prevented them from trying to claim a sixth straight regional championship.
Those disappointments should provide plenty of extra motivation for the Kingsmen this year.
“We had a good offseason,” Yeoman said. “Guys worked hard and were engaged and tried to take positive strides. They responded the way we would have hoped.
“There’s a lot of new faces and they’ve got to get used to (the high expectations). All the seniors are trying to create their own special chapter in this book that we call Penn football and we’re excited to see what they do.”
Yeoman didn’t see either side of the ball having the edge at practice.
“Both are at about the same place,” the 17th-year coach of the Kingsmen said. “We’re really green at a lot of different places. There’s nothing you can do about that. The guys are going to keep working and every day try to get a little bit better.”
An offense, which averaged 23 points a game last year, will be led junior quarterback Ron Powlus. Powlus completed 117-of-221 passes for 1,389 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago. He also rushed for eight touchdowns.
“He’s a great student of the game and he worked hard in the offseason,” Yeoman said about his starting signal-caller. “He’s improved and keeps getting smarter, better and quicker. I thought he did a great job last year as a sophomore against great competition.”
Junior receiver Nick Favilla will be one of Powlus’ target, while up front, the Kingsmen have the powerful senior duo of Ryan Williams and Matt Engdahl. Favilla caught six passes for 114 yards with a touchdown, while Williams is going into this third year as a starter on the line.
“We have a lot of new faces (on offense), but some of those guys actually rotated in some last year,” Yeoman said.
Defensively, Penn was pretty stout last season. The Kingsmen allowed only 16 points and 281 yards a game.
Anchoring that unit will be senior Christian Forsythe and junior Joe Apata on the line and senior Nick Hardrict in the secondary. Hardrict totaled 48 tackles, while Apata had 30 and Forsythe totaled 18.
Penn’s non-conference schedule will look different this year.
Valparaiso remains from last year, but there will be three new opponents in LaPorte, Homewood-Flossmoor (IL) and St. Xavier (OH). Those four schools went a combined 29-18 last year.
“When we set out to create our schedule we look at our conference as a great conference and that’s set in stone,” Yeoman said. “In our case, we have four open dates every year. Our philosophy has been to put our guys into situations that will get us ready for a great conference run and, hopefully, a great playoff run as well. We’re going to play quality opponents and teams that have been to state championship games and have a long tradition of success.
“If you take a look at those four (non-conference) opponents this year you see a Valparaiso team that is loaded. They’ve got a bunch of guys back and Division I talent on their football team. LaPorte has Jeremy Lowery, a former player of ours, coaching them. He’s done a great job over there. Homewood-Flossmoor is a team from outside of Chicago that has been to the state finals and St. Xavier out of Cincinnati has been a state champion multiple times.
“Those are four, great, great opponents that will do nothing but help us get better as a football team. Now, they’re going to challenge us and there’s a little bit risk and reward as a part of that. But we’ve kind of approached it as an opportunity for us to play in big games and get that kind of experience. It’s early in the season and it’s going to help you prepare for the rest of the season and, hopefully, it helps you grow as a player. When you play teams like that it’s going to help point out some of your weaknesses. They’re going to find out your areas of weakness pretty quick.”