SLAYTON - The success of the 2013 football season for the Murray Country Central Rebels will likely hinge on how well their players adapt to change.
Not only do the Rebels have a new head coach in Travis VanOverbeke and assistant coach in Patrick Freeman, the team is also looking to implement a new system and will attempt to do that under the leadership of only five seniors.
"I think change is a big issue with student-athletes," said VanOverbeke, a native of Marshall. "When you're used to running a certain system for so long, when anybody new comes in, it is kind of an abrupt change.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
New Murray County Central head coach Travis VanOverbeke, foreground, looks at his watch as his players run sprints during a conditioning drill in practice last week in Slayton.
It's a lot to deal with at once, but the coaching staff and players appear to be up for the challenge.
VanOverbeke is at the helm after taking over for Chris Davis, who coached the Rebels for 16 seasons. VanOverbeke credits returning assistant coach Tom Whitehead for helping make the transition easier.
"Right now, we're trying to decide which athlete fits which position the best into the system we plan to run," VanOverbeke said. "I guess you could call this try-out week."
While VanOverbeke is not used to having a small roster, currently around 40 players, he is encouraged by the talent he's seen on the field.
"We are looking for some size, but we are showing signs of some good strength in areas that we need it, though," he said. "We've got a lot of athletes, some kids who are involved in a lot of different sports. That's important to me as well, that they see different sides of where they're supposed to be in life."
The Rebel have 16 seniors to replace from last year's team, including running back Jack Thony, one of the top playmakers in the area. Thony averaged 9.9 yards per carry, recorded 1,706 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, and led MCC to a 4-6 record last year.
"I don't know if you can replace a guy like that," VanOverbeke said. "But I don't want to say he's irreplaceable either. These new guys coming in, replacing some of those seniors from the squad last year, understand where the bar was set as far as certain statistics go. They want to make it their statistic now."
So far, VanOverbeke said he's pleased with the competition level he's seen at practice. Leading the charge for MCC are Seth Bass and Mitch Reinsma, two of the team's five seniors.
"We have a crew of older guys that are holding the whole ship together," VanOverbeke said. "When we had our initial meeting, when I was being introduced to the team, every single one of these players said that they just liked being part of the team and that they liked being around all the guys who were on the team. That makes my job a lot easier, when kids enjoy being around each other."
Bass looks to be the go-to quarterback, while Reinsma will continue seeing time as a running back.
"Seth has shown a lot of leadership qualities that I'm looking for in a quarterback," VanOverbeke said. "And I think a lot of the players look up to him as well. He's got a nice demeanor about himself, where he wants to get better. He's patient with the game and he's patient with young players when we're out on the practice field. So those qualities right there show me that he needs to be on the field constantly."
VanOverbeke said Bass and Reinsma, who complemented Thony last year by recording 1,136 yards rushing and nine rushing touchdowns, have picked up a lot of the new program's specifics already.
"We're looking at Mitch for an option at running back," VanOverbeke said. "We're also looking at Tyler Scotting and a few other guys who are starting to emerge from the rest of the group."
Reinsma noted that oftentimes change can be a good thing and that he's optimistic about the upcoming season.
"I'm really excited, especially with all the new, younger kids, new offense, new coaches and everything like that," he said. "We've been doing the same thing for a long time, so it might be good to change something up."
With only five seniors, both Reinsma and Bass, who have started since they were freshmen, have tried to step up and help guide the team the past month or so.
"We've led the captain practices and have tried to get everyone to participate," Bass said. "We've been getting together two times a week to work on the new offense, pass plays and run plays, stuff like that."
Bass said he felt the past week of football camp had gone well and he's looking forward to contributing as much as he can.
"I just want to learn the new offense and make good decisions," he said. "I feel like we got Mitch and a couple of other young guys who are coming up who are athletic and just as fast and could be as good as Jack was. It's always a new experience every year."
Replacing players on the defensive side will also be a challenge. To graduation, MCC lost Devin Miranowski, who led the Little Sioux Conference and Marshall area in tackles last year with 135, Max Whitehead, who tallied 61 tackles and was third in the area with 9.5 sacks, Kyle Vos (65 tackles), Mike Beek (58), Grant Bose (52), Ben Loosbrock (47), Kyle Saner (46) and Aaron Benson (45).
Along with newcomer Jordan Ahlers, Logan Kluis and Nick Petersen look to lead the 2013 defensive charge. The duo recorded 61 and 49 tackles last year, respectively.
"We had a good turnout for captains' practices and that, to me, shows they want to put forth some pretty good effort," VanOverbeke said. "I'm excited about that. These kids also know how to play the game, which helps."