Going back to the 2008 season, few teams have had more playoff success than the Simon Kenton Pioneers, led by head coach Jeff Marksberry. The Pioneers have been to 4 of the previous 5 Region Championship games and during that span, also made an appearance in the State Championship game. Heading into the 2013 season, the Pioneers look to continue that trend of deep playoff runs.
"Our kids have worked hard at buying in to the expectations that our coaching staff have set for them," said Coach Marksberry. "That taste of success back in 2008 (State Championship runner up) has kind of lingered around here and our kids want to build upon the success that group set and our kids have really bought in to being a successful program that started with that group in 2008."
Expectations for this group will once again be high and one of the biggest reasons for that is the return of senior quarterback Brennan Kuntz on offense, who piled up over 2,000 yards passing and over 350 yards rushing a season ago.
"Obviously Brennan is one of our leaders," Coach Marksberry said. "He does a great job running our offense and understanding what he needs to do make our offense successful."
Kuntz is a drop back passer, which is evident by the numbers he accumulated last year, but it's his ability to run that helps make the Pioneer signal caller so dangerous.
"He’s the type of kid that can run if he has to, but doesn’t have to make running his first priority. He does a great job distributing the ball and keeping our guys on offense happy," said Coach Marksberry.
Returning with Kuntz to make this an even more potent offense is his favorite target in Grant Wassom, who had 800 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns last season as well as receivers Lars McEntyre and Evan Meenach.
"We’re excited about our ability to put the ball in the air," said Coach Marksberry. "We try to be balanced but at the same time we want to spread the ball around and force teams to defend the entire field."
There will be new faces at the running back position after the loss of Andrew Sampson, who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, but Coach Marksberry feels they have several new guys who can step up and provide similar production.
"Dillon Powell is a very explosive athlete that does great things and has great ball skills and Travis Bryson is one of the fastest kids on our team."
Up front, the Neers return several big bodies to block for Kuntz and provide protection to allow Kuntz to pick a defense apart. A few of those key guys include Ben Walling, who currently holds Cornell and Columbia offers, and Cameron Hansel, who is the younger brother of current Ball State lineman Jordan Hansel.
Defensively the Pioneers will try to replace linebacker Jared Bowling and Defensive back Jared Swanson, who were the heart and soul of last year’s defense, the Neers return 8 starters from that group to help make things easy for Coach Marksberry and his staff.
"Some of those guys that are returning starters will step in take up some of the slack with the departure of Swanson and Bowling," said Coach Marksberry.
Leading the defense this year will be the second leading tackler from a year ago in linebacker Mike Krallman, as well as the three returning defensive line starters in Quinton Marksberry, Matt King and Brady Gowen.
That group should allow the defensive backs to be much more aggressive out wide and make up for some of the playmaking ability lost with the loss of Swanson. Still, with the returning group they have in the secondary, the Pioneers will still be solid. Coach Marksberry talked about the returning group.
"In the secondary we return our free safety in Chase Wilson, Alec Zaffiro, and Austin Kelly who played for us a lot at the end of the year and did a great job in the first round (of the playoffs) against Bryan Station."
Schedule wise, this Pioneer team will be tested right out of the gate as they open up on the road at 4A state runner up, Collins, then host Holy Cross, and get a pair of top 3 teams in the state for their class in 5A Conner and 2A defending state champion Newport Catholic before hosting defending 5A runner up Cooper.
"Two runner ups and a state champion in the first couple weeks along with Drew Barker and Conner, we feel should prepare us for what is always a brutal (6A) district," said Coach Marksberry. "Each week you have to be physical and ready to play."
The schedule will be rounded out with the 6A district schedule and then Dixie Heights and Bullitt Central in the final two games.
Coming off a 9-4 showing last season and region championship appearance, with all of the key guys returning mentioned above, expectations will once again be high.
"We feel like with the returning guys we have, the experience, and the talent we have, we should set our expectations high," Coach Marskberry explained. "Obviously we want to compete for a district title. We want to compete for a regional championship. We want to make another deep post season run. Our kids believe in eachother."
Players to Watch:
Brennan Kuntz (QB) - Brennan is not only an accurate passer, but also a threat to run. The senior accounted for close to 2500 yards of total offense last season and will be counted on to produce similar numbers this year with the majority of offensive teammates back. One of his greatest strengths, however, is the leadership that he shows both on and off the field.
Ben Walling (OT) - Walling currently holds offers from Columbia and Cornell. At 6’5 280 lbs, he is not only an outstanding tackle for the Pioneers, but also a great student, which is evident by the IVY League interest that he is receiving.
Cameron Hansel (OL) – Hansel is a 6’2 250lb lineman that will return as a starter up front and should be a key part of what should be a solid offensive line.
Travis Bryson (RB) - The senior 2 sport athlete is regarded as one of the fastest players on the team and will be counted on to make plays both in space and when taking hand offs.
Dillon Powell (RB) - Powell is a very explosive running back with great ball skills that will be counted on to make plays both at the running back position as well as in the return game.
Lars McEntyre (WR) - McEntyre will once again be a key part to this offense as he returns looking to improve on his 23 catches and 264 yards from a year ago.
Evan Meenach (WR) - Menich saw a lot of time last year and despite only having 7 catches for 108 yards, should see an increased role in this year’s offense.
Mike Krallman (LB) - Krallman was the second leading tackler from a season ago and will return as a 3 year starter.
Chase Wilson (DB) - Wilson was the leading interceptor last season with 5. Look for his ball hawking ability to once again be on full display this season. Wilson also had 71 tackles last season.
Alec Zaffiro (DB)- Zaffiro started at corner a year ago and finished with 53 tackles on the year.