MORRICE — There’s a lot that’s new this season at Morrice High School.
There’s a new resident in the school’s trophy case, courtesy of the football team’s 2018 8-Man Division 1 state championship.
There’s a new track at the high school and a new fence around the football field.
On the field? That team is going to be pretty new, too.
The Orioles are replacing 15 of 16 starters and plan to start an all-sophomore offensive line. The only returner is wideout/defensive back Shane Cole.
Cornerback/running back Jarrett Wood saw his time increase as the season went on and played a key role in the championship run, but didn’t start most of the season.
So, as you might expect, there are a lot of opportunities for players to make an impact.
“As the offensive coordinator, I keep selling that to the boys,” Morrice coach Kendall Crockett said. “There are no (guaranteed) starting spots for anyone right here. You’re earning this right up until Day 1 vs. Kingston.”
The Orioles have been wearing T-shirts with the letters “SOS” — short for Same Old Situation — on their backs in the offseason.
And, for opponents, the schemes will be the same despite a near-entirely new cast.
“We’re going to have the same concept as last year,” Crockett said. “We’re going to spread people out and be fast. We’ve got a ton of speed and we have one of our bigger offensive lines. It’s going to be younger, but it’s still going to be a formidable line.”
“Younger” is a bit of an understatement.
Alex Larner, who will play center, and guards Todd Nanasy and Brett McGowan all are sophomores.
They’ll be tasked with opening holes for quarterback Johnny Carpenter, fullback Peyton Smith and wingback Jarrett Wood. Tight ends Caden Mortinsen and Cole also will block and play key roles in the passing game.
The Orioles hope to have another starter from last year available by the end of the season. Jack Nanasy, who suffered a broken leg over the summer, will miss most of the season. Crockett hopes to have him back for another potential playoff run.
In the meantime, Nanasy has been contributing in other ways.
“He’s a tremendous leader,” Crockett said. “He was last season as a junior and this year as a senior. The kids look up to him. He’s a great asset to have on the team. He’s like a sixth coach. He’s very vocal with the underclassmen, and he’s helped a lot.”
Morrice’s 2019 slate doesn’t have the strength of schedule last year’s did, and its only extended trip is tonight’s season opener at Kingston, up in Michigan’s Thumb.
“We lost Deckerville but picked up Kingston,” Crockett said. “Mayville (in Week 2) is going to be a tough game. If we can get past those two and get rolling, we have a shot at starting 3-0.”
Momentum will be key going into the North Central Thumb League’s Red Division schedule.
Asked for a forecast, Crockett said he didn’t have one.
“It’s hard to say right now,” he said. “(Mt. Pleasant) Sacred Heart lost a lot of seniors, and I’m sure they’re going to get some players back. Genesee is going to be tough. They’re just getting their feet wet in 8-man football, as is Sacred Heart.”
Both schools are recent converts to the 8-man game, which Crockett believes could be an advantage for his team.
“It’s going to be a transition for them,” he said. “I noticed myself as a head coach how far we’ve come in five years. We’ve changed everything from Year One to now. It’s been a 180. Eight-man is a lot different from 11-man. You have to figure out what formations to put on the field.”
Meanwhile, the Orioles are working to repeat with a new cast.
“It’s on them to step up,” Cole said of his team. “I can’t do it all for them. They know what it takes, and I believe they can do it. I saw it in the weight room in the offseason. They can do it.”
Asked if there was a hangover from last season, Cole said: “It still doesn’t feel real to this day, but ever since the season ended, we went back to work and started working harder. We’re a young team, but we can do it again.