CHESANING — It’s a new season and a new focus for Chesaning, which was still trying to find its starter at quarterback and a few other spots a few days before the season was set to start.
Chesaning — which finished 3-6 overall and 3-4 in the Mid-Michigan Activities Conference last fall — is regrouping, but has some key players returning, head coach John Mimranek said. The Indians are trying to replace quarterback Cole Higley, a Division 6 All-Stater who passed for a school-record 21 touchdowns and 1,421 yards.
He also set the record for career TD passes with 41 and finished with 3,642 career passing yards.
Receiver Jacob Turnwald was Higley’s favorite target last fall, hauling in an area-best 45 catches for 750 yards and 15 TDs.
He’s gone as well.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Mimranek said. “We graduated Cole Higley and Jacob Turnwald, among others. But especially those two left their stamp on this program. They were as good a ball-skilled players who have ever played here.”
The quarterback battle was a three-way competition between senior Trent Devereaux and juniors Nick Fowler and Alex Thiel less than two weeks before the season opener against visiting Benzonia Benzie Central — which went 6-4 in 2018 and beat Chesaning 22-21.
“All three of them bring different characteristics to the table,” Mimranek said. “We’re just looking for one to emerge as head of the class.”
Devereaux could have an inside edge, as he backed up Higley last year and saw some action when Higley went down with an injury. The senior said he learned a great deal about quarterbacking from Higley.
“I feel like I’m ready,” Devereaux said. “He taught me quite a bit and I feel that I can come in and fill his shoes pretty well. We’ve changed the offense a little bit to fit the personnel. We’ve got a little bit more speed this year, so we’re looking to get outside and run fast.”
Whoever emerges may look for slot receiver Adam Kulhanek to throw to. Kulhanek had 15 catches for 238 yards and is capable of even bigger and better things in 2019.
“He made some nice plays for us a year ago as a junior,” Mimranek said. “But he obviously got overshadowed by Jacob Turnwald, who was a standout for us. And I think Adam is hungry to show what he can do.”
Kulhanek said he’s been working on his catching and route running to get ready. On defense, he’ll shift from safety to cornerback.
“You have to be more physical and it requires a lot more speed and hip turning,” Kulhanek said of playing corner.
Garrett Quackenbush — 6 feet tall and 230 pounds — will anchor the offensive line. He was named a second-team all-MMAC lineman a year ago. Ten pounds heavier this year, Quackenbush will play right guard on offense and play defensive end as well. He is a returning two-way starter.
“The offensive line looks a lot better than it did last year — that’s for sure,” Quackenbush said. “There’s more experience and we’ve got two guys coming back. Last year we struggled filling spots, injuries and stuff like that.”
Chesaning’s defense will feature several standouts as well, according to defensive coordinator Robert Sager.
“Keegan Nicol should have a good year — he’ll be playing linebacker for us,” Sager said. “And Garrett Quackenbush — he’s a three-year starter and plays at defensive end. And Trent Devereaux will be playing safety for us and he’ll anchor the secondary.”
Nicol will play outside linebacker.
“I want our team to make the playoffs and I want our team to go undefeated at home,” Nicol said. “We have a great team this year I think. We’re all different and we all bring a different mindset to the table. We have to make some big plays.”
Quackenbush said the defense should be better as well.
“This year we know a lot more on defense,” Quackenbush said. “Last year, we were a little skittish and confused. This year, our main focus will be getting to that quarterback and stuff like that.”
Starting the season at home, Chesaning will have a tough one against Benzie Central, Mimranek said.
“We get to host them and coach (Jason) Katt has done a tremendous job with them, turning that program around and getting them into the Division 5 state playoffs a year ago,” Mimranek said. “He’s a very class act and it’s a great school to work with. It’ll probably be a matchup we’ll never see again. But it’s been a good matchup, coming up one point short and losing to them last year at their place.”
After that comes Chesaning’s MMAC opener, the annual Military Classic game against Otisville-LakeVille, a team that struggled at 0-9 a year ago.
“It’s an awesome night for the community to showcase the big heart that they have,” Mimranek said. “They just make tremendous efforts to take care of the veterans of this community.”
In Week 3, Chesaning locks horns on with Montrose, coming off a 10-3 season and a Division 6 state semifinals appearance — a 42-20 loss to Jackson Lumen Christi. Then it’s back home to face Ovid-Elsie in front of contests against Durand, Byron and defending Division 7 state champion New Lothrop. The Indians conclude the regular season against Mt. Morris and Carrollton.
Mimranek said the MMAC will be “as tough as ever” in 2019.
“There’s a team that won a state championship and a team that’s played in the semifinals — we’ve got one of each of those — and we’re not looking forward to seeing either one of those teams,” Mimranek said. “And we’ve got a team that’s also a perennial powerhouse in Ovid-Elsie and Byron continues to qualify for the playoffs year after year.”