Skyline came into last season with uncertainty after graduating 15 seniors that led Skyline to back-to-back state semifinal appearances.
Even with the youth, Skyline remained formidable with an 8-4 season that ended with a 58-28 loss to Lincoln in the district title game.
Much of that success can be attributed to now graduated running back Shawn Bryan who rushed for 2,801 and accounted for 49 total touchdowns.
“Coming into the 2016 season, we weren’t really sure what to expect. We had lost 15 seniors to graduation from the previous season; seniors who set all kinds of school records and advanced to the state semifinals in ’14 and ’15. To say the least, they were very successful. We had a few returning starters, but most of the others were untested on the varsity level and we knew it was going to be a process of molding this team to be the best it could be,” Skyline head coach Brandon Shelby said. “It was a very rewarding season, as we exceeded the expectations that many people had for us. We were very fortunate to have such a great player in Bryan to lean on last year as we were so young in the skill positions, but they gained tons of experience.”
Bryan is gone, but a slew of players who gained experience last year return with six starters back on both sides of the ball.
Things will start up front with Eric Weaver who garnered first-team all-state honors on the offensive line. Weaver stands at 6’2, 260 pounds.
Caleb Crawford is also back on the line after tearing his ACL in the opening week of the season last year. Junior Garrett Lacey started at offensive tackle in 2017 and brings his 5’9, 185-pound frame back into the mix. Senior Mason Lile, who is 6’2, 230 pounds, will move from tight end to center.
Junior Trevor Russell will start at quarterback for the second consecutive season. He threw for 700 yards and ran for another 700 yards as a sophomore.
“His (Russell’s) passing ability has improved tremendously and we want to utilize that as much as possible. We need Trev to become a great leader and command the respect of his teammates,” Shelby said.
Russell will be charged with getting the ball into the hands of a talented group of skill players including Bobby Williams, Tanner Swearingen, Gage Gunter and Preston Scott. Gunter and Swearingen will see some carries in addition to impacting the passing game.
“All of these skills, I believe give us the opportunity to be very diverse offensively and take advantage of what defenses give us,” Shelby said. “We need to be balanced offensively and throw the football effectively to set up the run and keep defenses from loading up the box.”
Six defensive starters return to a unit that allowed 29 points per game in 2016, but was very young.
“We were very young on that side of the ball last year and our kids our definitely faster and stronger there. I really feel like our mentality defensively is going to be much improved also. Kids are flying around and getting to the football,” Shelby said.
Russell, Gunter, Swearingen, Williams and Tommy Montgomery will combine to make up a strong secondary.
Crawford will boost the linebacking corps after returning from an ACL injury.
Weaver and Lile along with Nate Curnutt, Marshall Cox, Paden Hodges and Cole Eidson will combine to give depth on the defensive line.
“We are very excited about the upcoming season. We have a great group of kids that have been working very hard and that want to have another successful Skyline football season. We know that we need to focus on getting better every day and then the success will take care of itself,” Shelby said.
Skyline will head to Warsaw for a jamboree with Buffalo on Aug. 11.
The Tigers open the season on Aug. 18 at home against Class 2 Lexington.