DURAND — After taking Durand from 0-9 to 4-5 in his first season, coach Rick Winbigler believes the Railroaders can make more improvements, and maybe, qualify for the playoffs
His biggest reason for optimism? He’s got a fleet of talented running backs and a powerful line to run behind.
Durand has installed a full house T offense with three running backs to choose from. A big offensive line is led by a pair of 300-pounders — Eastern Michigan commit Evan Egan at right tackle (6-foot-8 and 340 pounds) and junior Gavin Thomas at center (5-9, 325) among other blockers.
“I think it’s probably going to be the best running game that I’ve had through my three prior years on the varsity,” Egan said. “We’re all really strong. We spent a lot of time over the summer learning what we should do specifically.”
Concerning the offensive line as a whole, Egan prefers to use the word “strong” and not “big.”
“I wouldn’t say we’re big in size, but we’re definitely big in strength,” Egan said.
The offensive line will be rounded out by junior left guard Leka Dinaj (5-9, 190) and sophomore left tackle Ethan Coburn (5-11, 225). The tight ends are Chandler Cleveland (6-3, 205), a senior, and Daniel Sprague (6-0, 195), a junior.
Brock Holek ran for 1,104 yards as a sophomore and will share the fullback spot with Tyler Purdy — though Purdy is listed as the starter. At left halfback is Jacob Lockhart, a senior, and at right halfback is Kyle Winslow, another senior. The quarterback is 6-1, 200-pound junior Trenton Boisclair.
“Tyler did not get a lot of carries last year,” Winbigler said. “Tyler is sort of an unknown as far as what we’re going to do with him. But he’s going to touch the football. And Brock’s going to touch the football. And Lockhart and Kyle Winslow and those guys are going to touch the football. Last year we relied heavily on one or two ball carriers. This year, we want people to prepare for four.”
Holek said this season’s attack will indeed be more balanced.
“We’re trying to make it more balanced and get more players involved as ball carriers,” he said.
Winbigler credits his athletes for buying into working out in the weight room and increasing their strength through a concerted effort. At the same token, he believes he has speed in the backfield and braun on the line.
The coach said the two strongest pound-for-pound players are Hunter Spaulding, a 5-11, 215-pound right guard and Lockhart (5-10, 205).
“Hunter has truly transformed his body,” Winbigler said. “He’s big and strong and he can weight lift. He’s just a rock.”
Lockhart — who can bench press 235 pounds, squat 375 and dead-lift 445 — said the offense looks very good right now.
“We’re looking so much better than we were last year,” Lockhart said.
Durand had just 24 players on the field when it came time for picture day Aug. 24. Winbigler said his team may be thin in some spots, but he added many schools face the same challenge.
“I would put our starters up against anybody because I think we’re strong, we’re committed, we listen and we’re coachable — all of those things you want in your players, we are those things,” he said. ” That’s why I feel so confident in our ability to be a playoff football team.”
The team’s 3-5-3 defense will be fronted by Spaulding and Dinaj at ends and Egan at defensive tackle.
The linebackers include Jacob Lockhart, Trent Boisclar, Cleveland, Sprague, Winslow and Seth Bruce. The corners will be Mills and Purdy with Holek manning the free safety spot.
“We’ve all been in the weight room this summer and so we’re all a lot bigger and faster,” Winslow said.
Durand’s biggest challenge will be the tough Mid-Michigan Activities Conference, which produced four playoff teams in 2018 — including Division 6 semifinalist Montrose and Division 7 champion New Lothrop.
The team, however, believes that the playoffs are within reach.
“The guys understood last year — they had some success and we were stronger, we were in good condition and they decided that they wanted to take a bigger taste of that,” Winbigler said. “They wanted to be more successful and they decided they wanted to commit to the weight room.”