East Marshall trying to take advantage of athleticism

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • The East Marshall football team returns 12 letterwinners from last season. Pictured are, front row: (from left) Dillon Lee, Noah Bandstra, Kamren Hoskins, Cole Nauman, Carson Burchland and Caden Steward; back row: Jacob Carver, Devon Smith, Logan Nicholson, Zane Johnson, Tyler DeBondt and Logan Noe-Brown.

T-R PHOTO BY THORN COMPTON • The East Marshall football team returns 12 letterwinners from last season. Pictured are, front row: (from left) Dillon Lee, Noah Bandstra, Kamren Hoskins, Cole Nauman, Carson Burchland and Caden Steward; back row: Jacob Carver, Devon Smith, Logan Nicholson, Zane Johnson, Tyler DeBondt and Logan Noe-Brown.

LE GRAND — Heading into any season, it is always a benefit to return as many starters from the previous year as possible, and luckily for the East Marshall football team, it returns quite a few of its top players from last season.

Back are Class 2A District 3 all-district selections Noah Bandstra, Logan Nicholson, Tyler DeBondt and Zane Johnson, who make up most of the skill positions on offense for the Mustangs.

Head coach Matt Bandstra said having all those guys back will be a huge boon for his program heading into 2017.

“We have our backs and receivers back from last year, so that will be our strength on offense,” Bandstra said. “We have some linemen this year that haven’t been out for a year or two, so we changed up our blocking scheme a little bit and we will try to run the ball to kind of complement that but when it comes down to it the pass is going to still be a big part of our offense.”

Last fall, the Mustangs finished their season at 1-8, the same as in 2015. Already in 2017, however, East Marshall has met its previous two win totals with a Week Zero victory over Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont at home.

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While they scored 22 points in the win, it was the defense that led the Mustangs to their opening triumph, something Bandstra said will be necessary for his team to have more success this year.

“Defensively we have some pretty stout players and we just hope to be able to take away the other team’s best play and make them beat us in a different way,” he said. “We have the keys and building blocks there to have a solid defense, we just have to find some people to step up and help fill in some of the other areas.”

Once again, coach Bandstra said it is the quartet of Noah Bandstra, Nicholson, DeBondt and Johnson that will lead the way on the defensive side of the ball.

“Noah Bandstra has been the leader of our defense the last couple years in terms of tackles so we expect him as a junior to take another step forward,” coach Bandstra said. “Logan Nicholson has worked his tail off over the summer and is looking pretty good, so we expect him on the defensive end to create a lot of havoc. Zane and Ty back there playing D-back as well, and we have some new players who we might plug in there at corner or on the defensive line a little bit.”

As coach stated, the biggest question this season has been who will step up in the trenches for East Marshall, and he said he’s looking toward a couple of new players to the program to make some big contributions on the offensive and defensive line.

“We have some junior and senior linemen out this season have haven’t been out for a year or more,” Bandstra said. “People like Logan Andrews and Justin Ridout, those are guys we expect to come in and help us out a lot. We had a couple other guys that had played before but took care of some things in the classroom so they can start right from the beginning, those guys will help us out too.”

Now that they already have as many wins this year as they had each of the previous two seasons, the Mustangs legitimately have nowhere to go but up. Coach Bandstra said he thinks this team even has a shot at challenging or a spot in the playoffs when it is all said and done.

“Obviously improving on last year’s record would be a success,” he said. “We had lots of close games last year that broke the other way last year, so we would like to change that. Every team’s goal at the beginning of the season is to make the playoffs, so we will throw our hat in that ring too. We’ve got a tough schedule but we also have a group of kids that like to compete and they don’t like the status quo at East Marshall in terms of football so they are looking to do some great things.”