Team: Gaber Wolverines
Class B, District 2
Last year: 2-7
Head coach: Koy Hughes
4th season, 10-12
The Garber Wolverines are straightforward about their sole objective for the 2019 season — just make the playoffs.
“Last year, they really struggled to get in the playoffs,” new Garber head coach Koy Hughes said. “Garber has a rich tradition of championships and being a team that other teams … battle. Our first thing is to make the playoffs.”
The Wolverines have averaged two wins in each of the last two seasons, a performance that is “not good enough” for Garber’s program. Hughes hopes a playoff trip can set a new standard of not only winning, but making a championship run.
“Once you get into the playoffs,” he said. “Anything can happen.”
Hughes said the Wolverines will run a spread offense, much like what he ran as the head coach of Waukomis last season. Hughes’ offense will feature a number of formations and be up-tempo, like “a true spread.”
The Wolverines do not have a true “go-to” receiver but a multitude of different options including receivers senior Will Curl and Koda Oller and juniors Holt Nease and Kayleb Darst. Nease will line up at the slot, while Darst lines up at tight end.
Curl and Oller combined for more than 400 receiving yards and five touchdowns last year. Oller led the pair with four. Hughes expects both Curl and Oller to be the team leaders this season.
“I have a lot of guys that I have a lot of faith in,” Hughes said.
Junior T.J. Bennett will return as the starting quarterback. As a sophomore, Bennett recorded 1,018 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. He was second on the team in rushing with 258 yards and led the Wolverines with five rushing touchdowns.
Bennett and Oller are expected to lead the Garber’s rushing offense, but plenty of Wolverines are expected to lend a hand.
“My slot (receivers) will get a lot of carries and I really think (junior running back and receiver) Nick Roth could be a factor in the running game, as well,” Hughes said. Roth is a transfer from Missouri.
Up front, the Wolverines return their entire offensive line. The return of junior Gunner Sharp, who played in every game at center last season, is “huge.” Joining him will be seniors Chris Chartier and Dylan Hood, also incumbent starters. Hughes said the offensive line will have plenty of battles come August camp.
The offensive line is experienced enough to handle the different protections in Garber’s balanced spread offense. Hughes credited assistant coach Rustin Donaldson in getting the linemen strong in the weight room.
Like its offense, Garber will aim for balance in it’s defense by running out of a 3-2.
“I think if you want to be a championship-caliber team you should be able to run a 3-2 without having to rely on changing it up a lot,” Hughes said. “If you want to be a championship-caliber defense, you ought to be able to line up a bunch of people and punch them in the mouth without having to do anything fancy.”
Oller will return as a linebacker. The senior led the team with 42 total tackles last season. Junior Dawson Nagel, who will line up at safety, was third on the team with 29 last season.
The defense will likely face offenses with balanced attacks during district play, Hughes said.
“Our district is really tough,” Hughes said. “But it’s also capable of being won.”
Garber finished second-to-last in 2018, finishing just ahead of winless Kremlin-Hillsdale. Pioneer went undefeated in district play and secured the District 2 crown over runner-up Cherokee. Hughes said he would pick Cherokee to repeat as one of the top teams in the district.
“They return so much,” he said.
But so does Garber. While the seniors will open the season with a fourth head coach in as many seasons, there is plenty of optimism and excitement this season.
“I think they know they’re waiting to have a big year because we’re returning so many kids,” Hughes said. “I mean, they’re just hungry.”
Consecutive two-win seasons will make anybody hungry.
“They know they’re better than that,” Hughes said.
It also helps to have a head coach who understands the culture and the tradition of Garber football.
“I think having a hometown guy come back has kind of lit a fire under some of these kids bellies and that’s going to be a huge advantage for me as well,” Hughes said.
Garber hosts Beaver Aug. 30 to open the season.