Eagles' returners could mean success in NSL
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TWINING – Arenac Eastern fell short of making the high school football playoffs last season, but Eagles could get over the hump this season as second-year head coach Mark Machulis welcomed back a host of returning veterans to preseason practice earlier this month.
One player who figures big once again in the Eagles plans this season is returning senior quarterback Graham Morgan, who is the centerpiece of the team’s spread offense. He also spearheads the defense from the middle linebacker position.
Last season Morgan, a 3-time all-North Star League performer, attracted a lot of attention from opposing defenses, and Machulis doesn’t see that changing this year.
“He’s a real strong runner and got a real strong arm,” Machulis said. “Every team we play, even last year, gears their defense around Graham to try and stop him. He’s a power runner, hard to bring down and has a good arm.
“We’re expecting big things out of him.”
Joining Morgan in the offensive backfield is senior tailback Caleb Whitney, a two-year starter who Machulis said is a good runner with good speed. “He offsets Graham very well,” Machulis noted.
Whitney is also a standout in the defensive backfield, where he picked off four passes last year.
Guard Al Cilhcic and tight end John Semura also return on offense. Both are seniors, and Cilhcic has tons of experience, starting since his freshman year. Cilhcic will also play linebacker, while Semura will line up on the defensive line when the Eagles don’t have the ball.
A key position for any team that runs the spread offense is center, where senior J.R. Elsworth will be charged with snapping the ball from the shotgun. “We shotgun every snap and that’s a key position,” Machulis said. This is Elsworth’s first year at center, but the Machulis is confident he will be effective, and most importantly, consistent.
The Eagles have plenty of underclassmen on the team, including several sophomores who had the unenviable task of starting as freshman last year. “They all started last year,” Machulis said. “I call them my super sophs. Last year they stuck it out and kept getting better and better.”
Included in the group are Austin Clark, Kyle Zobel, Buford Jones and Joey Kramer. Clark plays tackle, Zobel cornerback and wingback, Jones offensive guard and defensive end, and Kramer running back and inside slot receiver. Jones will also provide backup at quarterback for Morgan.
Last season the Eagles had to adjust to Machulis’ style of offense and defense.
Not this year.
“They’ve have the same coach for two years now and that helps the kids,” Machulis said. “They’re used to the system.”
And the Eagles coach hopes that translates into wins, especially in league play.
“Mio. The road to the North Star League is usually through them,” Machulis said. “Hale will be tough, Hillman was young last year and should be tougher this year, and Posen is down a little bit, but should still be tough.
“It’s gonna be a balanced league this year.”