NEW LOTHROP — Last year, the New Lothrop football team had an experienced line and a less-experienced set of skill players.
The result was a state championship.
In 2019, with an experienced set of skill players and an inexperienced line, the challenge is to do it again.
“We’ve got a great group of seniors who were a big part of that season last year,” Hornets coach Clint Galvas said. “Leadership is going to be huge for us this year, but we have great guys in place.”
Among them is quarterback Avery Moore, who led the Hornets to their second title in school history last season.
“He was a captain as a junior and he comes in with a whole year of experience at that,” Galvas said.
Moore, in his third year on varsity, is ready for an increased leadership role.
“I feel it’s easier the second time around,” said Moore, who committted to Grand Valley State over the summer. “I’ve got the feel for it now. You have to lead by example. I wouldn’t say it’s much easier, but there’s less pressure.”
Austin Barnette and Jake Graves also are entering their third year on the varsity.
“I never have to worry about these guys leading by example,” Galvas said. “They’re always busting their butts. Now they’re getting the vocal aspect of leadership. Avery has no problem doing it by himself, but these guys are going to figure it out, too.”
Moore, last year’s leading rusher for the Hornets, will be looking for running room behind an offensive line that will have four new starters. Center Colby Hemgesberg is the lone returnee, though Zach Savage saw extensive time as a reserve.
They’ll be joined by Jacob Burgess, Ryan Burtch and Will Taylor. Michael Castillo also will see playing time.
“Those four kids are tough kids and they’ve put in a lot of time,” Galvas said. “A lot of those kids will be rotating on the defensive line.”
On defense, they’ll be joined by Cam Orr, who also serves as Moore’s backup at quarterback while also seeing time at tight end or as an H-back.
Moore is joined by junior Will Muron in the backfield. Julius Garza will play in the backfield and as a wideout. Graves and Dylan Shaydik return as wideouts from a group that lost Aidan Harrison — now playing at Missouri — to graduation. All will see time on defense as well.
“They’ve been around and had huge games in the state finals,” Galvas said. “They have a lot of experience. We’re going to be pretty darn good.”
Graves will handle punting duties, while Moore, who handled kickoffs last year, will be relieved of that job this year.
“He did a good job, but it’s a good chance to get him off the field,” Galvas said. “Ian Gross will be our kicker, and he’s got a hell of a leg.”
That, in turn, will allow for kicking more extra points than in previous years, when the Hornets went for two-points often.
“We haven’t been consistent in our kicking game, and I felt if we got 50 percent of our two-point conversions, we’d be in good shape,” Galvas said. “I think we’ll be consistent enough (to kick) this season.”
A nonconference schedule that begins with Lake City, whom the Hornets beat in the Division 7 semifinals last season, and ends with Division 5 power Frankenmuth also features a tough Mid-Michigan Activities Conference slate.
“It was a great move for us and a great move for everyone involved,” Galvas said of moving to the MMAC. “We got to play our next-door neighbor in Montrose, which is always a good game for both teams. Ovid-Elsie is a bigger school, and they bring it, and with Chesaning and Durand nearby, those teams are much improved. I don’t want to leave Byron out either. They’re tough as nails.
“It’s nice because the gates seem to be bigger, there are more people in the stands and the atmosphere is a lot better,” he said.
The Hornets play their first three games on the road as their field was re-seeded with grass in the offseason.
Their press box already has a new placard on it honoring state championships in 2006 and last fall. The Sept. 20 game with Montrose will be the first chance for Hornets fans to honor their reigning state champions.
“There are times when I think about last season and all the good things that came from it. It will always be one of my most favorite games. It was a shootout, it was high-scoring, it was high pressure,” Moore said of the 50-44 victory over Madison Heights Madison in the state final.
“You’ve got to love the pressure,” he added. “You’ve got to love to play for it. It’s unbelievable, how fun that was. People were congratulating us last year, but we’re of the mindset that we want to go back. We’re going to try and get another one.”