SPORTS: Fighting Indians Football: The good, the bad, and the unknown

New Vero Beach High School Football Coach Lenny Jankowski will be introduced to the Vero crowd at tomorrow’s home boys basketball game vs. Sebastian River.  To set up the introduction, let’s take a look at some of the pieces he has to work with going into spring football practice.

The Good

Jankowski has a lot of talented players to work with, even if they aren’t as accomplished at this point in their football careers as the group of graduating seniors. Running Backs: In spite of losing workhorse FB Jormonte Hunter (2119 career yards rushing and 35 total TDs), the backfield is far from empty.  Sophomore Nate Pryor is a rising star at RB, but he will have to fight older brother E.J. Pryor and Dentist Hall (both seniors) for the role of feature back.

Receivers:  Really, receivers?  Yes, really.  Rakeem Marcelle may have only caught seven passes last year, but he made every catch count.  His 21.6 yard average lets you know he has big play ability.  His 124-yard, 2 TD playoff performance against Seminole Ridge was just a hint at what he is going to do in 2011.  The other factors at this point are guesses, but knowing Jankowski’s penchant for offense, I’m guessing the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Dwayne Hoilett becomes a weapon in a spread offense.  Hoilett is one of the fastest players on the team, but he’s spent most of his time on defense since playing his first season of organized football as a sophomore in 2009.  Another player to keep an eye on?  How about DB Sean Paul?  Perhaps the fastest player on the team, Paul’s speed could be utilized (at least occasionally) on offense.

Connor Moore:  Tom Siano from Complete Athletic Training raved about Moore’s work ethic, and told me about how the 6-foot-2 240-pound sophomore won MVP of a football camp over winter break.  An offensive lineman winning a camp MVP? Color me impressed.  After hearing his father, John Moore, give an eye-witness account of Connor pancaking a wild-eyed 290-pound defensive tackle at Junior Rank’s December football camp. . . let’s just say I’m sold that Connor Moore is going to be THE NEXT elite offensive lineman at Vero Beach.

Kicker:  Karson Dietrich follows in a long line of great Fighting Indian kickers.  From former FSU all-time career points leader Dave Cappelen to sweet-kicking Patrick Baker, Vero Beach has had no less than 10 college-level kickers come through Vero since the early 1970s.  Dietrich, at this point in time as a sophomore, is as developed as just about any of them.  Two of his four FGs were beyond 40 yards, and his kickoffs were solid.

Linebacker:  Sophomore Cole Ripple will be a year older and stronger.  Juniors Bradley Petticrew, Lemetrius Bennefield, and Robert Dixson will provide leadership to a defense that loses seven seniors to graduation in May.  This unit will be the strength of the defense.

The Bad

Vero Beach is losing a lot of senior leadership to graduation.  Along with Hunter (the team’s leading rusher) the Fighting Indians lose defensive standout Dion Holmes, the team’s leading tackler each of the past two seasons.

Although it could be argued that Vero’s defensive line didn’t dominate as much as they should have in 2010, Cody Horstman, David Dixson, and Lars Koht will all be missed next year.  Both safeties, Larry Franklin and Austin Carter, are headed to college to play football next year as well.

The graduation of Todd Fennell leaves two gaping holes in the team going into spring: quarterback and punter.  Fennell was the only Vero player to attempt a pass last year, and was one of the best punters in all of prep football.  Jankowski could turn to the soccer team for a punter (are you reading this, Austin Diaz?).  Where will he turn for a QB?  I’m sure he’ll be taking a long look at the junior varsity film over the next few weeks.

The Unknown

Jankowski’s offense will run multiple formations, but will probably feature a lot of spread offense.  He’ll have from now until September to teach a new system to a program that has run out of the Wing-T formation since 2006.  The new coach will, no doubt, work tirelessly to make sure his offense is installed and in working order.

But what about the defense?  Will they switch from a 3-3-5 to a four-man front?  Will Jankowski play as many players as he can on offense and defense.  With so many starters graduating, this seems to almost be a certainty.  Testimony from ex-players and former assistant coaches under Jankowski speak to his ability to get the most out of the talent on his teams.  To be sure, we probably won’t be able to judge what he has done with the team by spring–it will be far too early for a team running a new offensive system to have the entire playbook down pat.

What is for sure, though, is the challenge of taking over the high-profile Vero Beach job will be a true test for this young, crafty coach.

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