Comet skill players looking to operate in space

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Comets football returns nine starters from last season. Pictured are front row: (from left) Greg Schmitt, Brad Barkema and Blake Mann; second row: Ben Paper, Calob Keller, Coby Willett and Keegan Rhinehart; back row: Jack Garber and Connor Thompson.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • Comets football returns nine starters from last season. Pictured are front row: (from left) Greg Schmitt, Brad Barkema and Blake Mann; second row: Ben Paper, Calob Keller, Coby Willett and Keegan Rhinehart; back row: Jack Garber and Connor Thompson.

CONRAD — While the BCLUW football program only won one game last year, that game was on the final moment of its season when the Comets prevailed over MFL MarMac in a 33-22 win at home.

BCLUW head coach Anthony Jahr said he wants to build off that season-closing victory from last year as his team enters 2017, and it will do so with a crop of returning skill position players.

“We have a lot of skill guys coming back, a lot of speed that we are excited about, but we definitely are rebuilding up front at the line so we are doing some things just to get our skill guys the ball out in space because we think that’s the strength of our offense,” Jahr said at the start of the team’s second week of practice.

Arguably the most experienced returning Comet is quarterback Brad Barkema, who was a Class 1A District 2 all-district second-team selection last season. Jahr said having his quarterback back for a third-straight season inspires great confidence in his offense.

“That is definitely something that is reassuring, knowing we bring back a three-year starter at quarterback,” Jahr said of the senior. “Any time you have consistency there it’s comforting, and not only that he plays free safety too so he’s the quarterback of our defense. He is a huge asset to have back, he has been hitting the weights strong and he’s gotten a lot faster with his feet and agility this summer. We are really excited to see what he can do this year.”

T-R GRAPHIC

T-R GRAPHIC

Having Barkema back is crucial, but BCLUW will be missing last year’s all-state first-team athlete in Clay Silver, who accounted for almost half of the team’s offensive touchdowns and led the Comets with 81 solo tackles in 2016.

Jahr said the way his team handles that is not having one player step into Silver’s shoes, but to have everyone on the team get more involved.

“We can’t replace Clay Silver as a first-team all-state linebacker, we will have to do that as a team,” Jahr said. “We kind of had to funnel everything to him offensively and defensively last year, this year is definitely going to be more team based. We are going to get everyone involved at different spots, so it will be kind of replacement by committee.”

What will help with that replacement, Jahr said, is the relative speed BCLUW brings to the field this year.

“We are a faster team than we’ve been in the past, we definitely have some team speed that we are going to rely on,” he said. “We are not the biggest team, but you don’t have to be the biggest team to win games. We are going to be quick, we are going to be aggressive, we will be fast and we are gonna know our assignments. That’s how we are going to beat people, we aren’t going to out-muscle people and we recognize that, so we are going to do our best to put guys into good positions.”

Even with the uptick in speed, Jahr stressed that his offensive line will need to develop in a hurry, especially considering they are rebuilding form a senior-heavy line last year.

“We do return one guy who started and two of the guys saw significant minutes but definitely didn’t start last year for us,” he said. “We really have two positions we are trying to fit things into, and it is going to come from younger guys. That is something we are excited about because any time you can get younger guys snaps, sure it hurts them at the beginning but by the end of the year they are on the right track and continuing to help us as they get older.”

If the line can hold up and Barkema continues to improve through his final year behind center, Jahr expects this team can make a little noise in their district in 2017, but he said as long as they show improvement every time they step on the gridiron, that is considered a success.

“As long as we continue to be competitive in games and putting ourselves in situations to win games, that will be a successful season,” he said. “Last year we didn’t capitalize on those situations, but we were more successful at the end than where we were at the beginning. A successful season is just building forward and continuing to compete with no matter who we are playing.”