BYRON — The Byron football team has gotten into the playoffs the last couple of seasons, but the Eagles are looking for more in 2019.
Improved team chemistry might be the answer, indeed it could be crucial for a team which graduated key starters last season.
“I feel we get along better,” said quarterback Jack Selon, who was a running back last year. “There’s not as much arguing and fighting — not that there was a lot last year — but I feel we have a better bond this year.”
Every little bit will help Byron as the Eagles kick off their schedule against Division 4 semifinalist Williamston in tonight’s season opener.
“I think the key for us is the buy-in, if they can build that camaraderie and if they can build some chemistry,” coach Byron Schartzer said.
Selon won the job at quarterback over Jared Moe, who will join Selon in the backfield at running back in Byron’s spread offense.
The offensive line returns tackles Drew Pettit, a 6-7, 340-pounder, and Jacob Huhn at left tackle. Cole Staton will be a tight end and blocking back and might fill in at offensive guard on occasion.
Donovan Degiorgio centers the line, with Carter Montgomery and Tyler Sage as guards.
Casey Hatfield, who played basketball last season, will be part of the Eagles receiving corps.
“He’s real athletic,” Schartzer said. “He lacks experience, but he’s got a lot of natural ability.”
Josh Green, last year’s leading receiver, and Kooper Ciszewski also return. Braden Hoffman, who sat out last season, will be another target in Byron’s passing attack.
“It’s definitely working together and everyone doing their parts to make a good football team, putting in the effort, everyone, a cumulative effort to play and win as a team,” Ciszewski said. “That’s what’s really important for us.”
On defense, the Eagles return Pettit, Huhn and Staton on the offensive line.
Defensively, the Eagles start three new linebackers in Montgomery, Hatfield and Matt Pellman. The defensive line will consist of Huhn, Pettit, Sage and Staton, while the defensive backfield will include Ciszewski and Green at the corners with Selon and Moe at safety.
The Eagles have made the playoffs with 5-4 records in each of the last two seasons, then lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Asked if his team is looking to build off that record, Schartzer said: “We are. But, like I tell my kids, it’s one of our distant goals. Right now, I want to win that first snap. We win that first snap, we have a good series, we have a good drive. You have to win the first snap before you can win the second one, the first game before you can win the second.”
The Eagles already had a tough Mid-Michigan Activities Conference slate on tap before they added Williamston.
“That’s a huge opponent,” Schartzer said. “I don’t know if it’s harder than playing (Flint) Hamady at Atwood Stadium last year, but they’re going to be a good team. Good coaching staff, great kids. It’s going to be a good test for us.”
The Hornets come to Byron for tonight’s season opener, and the Eagles are up for the challenge.
“I like it,” Selon said. “I like competition. I like to go out and compete against good teams. It shows what we have.”
The Eagles then begin their MMAC slate, which Schartzer says will provide a weekly test.
“Every Friday is going to be a war,” he said. “That’s the easiest way to put it. You’ve got the perennial powerhouses in New Lothrop, which won a (Division 7) state title last year. Montrose won a (Division 6) regional title. Chesaning, you never know. They have great kids and a good school. Durand is a crosstown rival. It’s like Michigan and Michigan State.
“It’s going to be fun. You want to get challenged each and every week. You want to put your best out there and hope you can compete and have a chance to win.”
As much as camaraderie can help a team, Schartzer says a mental focus is paramount.
“It comes back to effort and discipline,” he said. “You’ve got to eliminate the mistakes. You can’t turn the ball over. You can’t have stupid penalties. You can’t have a long drive, it’s fourth-and-15 and a penalty gives them a first down. You can’t do that against good teams.
“When we have the ball, we have to keep the ball, and I think that’s what it’s going to come down to. It’s effort, heart and discipline. Those things, you can’t coach. You hope the kids bring it.”