ELKHART — The start of the 2019 high school football season is a bittersweet one for Elkhart Memorial football coach Scot Shaw.
As Shaw enters his fifth season at Memorial, the Chargers' entire program is stronger than it's ever been. In fact, all 22 of his varsity starters this season have started games prior to Friday's Mangy Lion showdown with Elkhart Central.
But Shaw also knows this is the last season for Elkhart Memorial football, before the two Elkhart high schools merge prior to next season.
"It's very bittersweet knowing this is it ... we can't say wait till next year,'' Shaw admitted. "It's tough knowing our program is strong and now that has to go away. But that said, there will also be a chance we can do something magical for out last year.''
The Chargers have many of the ingredients to do just that, starting with a fast group of runningbacks and a three-year starter at quarterback in senior in Tyler Lehner.
"This is the most weapons we've had since I've been here,'' Shaw said. "We have more overall speed at the skill positions and if we can run the ball well enough, it will take a lot of pressure off Tyler and he can just be the leader of our offense and not have to worry about doing it all. Plus, our receivers our quick and fast and hopefully they're able to create space between defenders so he can make easier throws too.''
Lehner completed 112 of his 214 passes last season for 1,216 yards and seven touchdowns and opens his third year as the starter. Derrick Woods returns at as the team's leading rusher from last season, as he gained 784 yards and scored 13 touchdowns despite battling injuries. Ivan Soeun is also back at a halfback position after gaining 688 yards and scoring six times. Senior Breydan Weston and junior Graham Elli are also in the mix at running back.
"I hate to used the word situational backs, but it could be just that to be honest,'' Shaw said. "But they can all run very well and the depth will help us to not get anyone tired of if we have injuries.''
Tyren Mason led the team in receptions last season with 26 and returns at a wide out. Junior Estrada and Damien Funnell also have experience at the receiver spots for Memorial.
The Chargers offensive line is both experienced and strong, led by tackles Jerry Thiel and Drew Schultz, center Bryson Flores at center, with Caleb Webb and Dom Buoscio at the guard spots. All but Buoscio are three-year starters, while Buoscio started last year.
Shaw is also high on the speed and quickness in the defensive backfield, where five starters return in D'Arjon Lewis, Dylan Rost, Nathan Sabas, LaShawn Whitener and Elli. Clayton Lundy is back at linebacker, where he led the Chargers in tackles last season and made The Truth's All-Area team. Weston is also back at a linebacker spot, while Kyle Osborne, Zayris Dillon and Tyon Winters are all returning in the defensive line.
"I think we'll be better defensively and hold teams down more and that will be a big key,'' Shaw said. "If we can score some points – and I'm very happy with the weapons we have – we should be okay.
"Speed kills and we have a lot of it this year. It makes us difficult to defend and defensively, we're able to get onto people quick. Some teams have one or two guys that can really move, but we're fortunate enough to have several kids that are very fast.''
Memorial opens the season with three straight road games, including tough matchups with Elkhart Central and Concord in weeks one and two. But they will then play four straight road games, including a non-conference battle with Culver Academy on Sept. 27.
2018: 3-7 (2-5 in NLC)
Aug. 23: at Elkhart Central
Aug. 30: at Concord (C)
Sept. 6: at Goshen (C)
Sept. 13: Warsaw (C)
Sept. 20: Plymouth (C)
Sept. 27: Culver Academy
Oct. 4: NorthWood (C)
Oct. 11: at Wawasee (C)
Oct. 18: Northridge (C)