By: Sara Wolf
The 2017 football season ended in freezing cold, bittersweet 10-to-nothing victory against rival team Oakwood. Sweet in the fact that the Eagles had left the Lumberjacks incapable of scoring a single point against them for the second year in a row, but bitter in the fact that they had fallen, once again, just short of making the playoffs. “Not making the playoffs was a big disappointment,” says senior captain Brendan Labensky, who is going into his third year as starting quarterback. “But, it helped the team realize how close we are to accomplishing a playoff spot.”
Beginning to earn a playoff spot began a month after the 2017 season ended. “The team has been working out [throughout the school year] 4 days a week in preparation of the 2018 season,” says head coach Jeff Jenkins. “We have implemented a great strength and conditioning program and the players are showing big gains. The effort and enthusiasm the players bring daily has made this [past year] a very enjoyable off-season. We have also spent a good deal of time analyzing last season, identifying the areas of weakness and putting together a solid plan to make those improvements. We’ve been working on some new concepts offensively as well that I believe will make us more explosive.”
Throughout summer, the Golden Eagles’ preseason consisted of 4 mini camps, camp at Wilmington College, and 2 weeks of two-a-day practices aside from 4 conditionings a week. “We’ve been putting in a lot more into the weight room,” says senior captain Hayden Bullock, who committed early in the spring to play football at the U.S. Air Force Academy fall of 2019. “Our ‘slogan’ this year is Attack,” says Jenkins. “We want to attack the day. Give all that we have for every opportunity that presents itself. Whether that be in the weight room, in the classroom, working out individually. We want to attack the challenges ahead with all we have. We want to leave nothing behind this season, truly give the best effort we possibly can. If we do this, I believe we will have a memorable season.”
Jenkins also believes his captains’ leadership abilities will strengthen the team and help them accomplish their goals this season. “The captains play a very important role on the team,” he says. “I felt so strongly about Ethan Knisley, Brendan Labensky and Hayden Bullock as leaders that I named them captains back in January. This is rare, but those three have shown a great deal of leadership and maturity so I felt very comfortable to make that decision early in the offseason. I have seen them take ownership of the team. They are constantly encouraging teammates, setting the tone of high expectations, and are always willing to help out the younger players. It’s evident their teammates have a high level of respect for them as players and people outside of football.”
The captains know the expectations placed on them with their given leadership roles, and none of them take it lightly. “I am very excited to be a captain of my team this year. It means that I have to lead all of the players under me down the correct path, and that I have a lot of responsibilities for myself and for my community,” says Ethan Knisley. “It’s an honor, as cheesy as that sounds,” says Bullock. “But it means a lot to me, especially knowing the trust that Coach Jenkins has put in to me as a captain. All of our captains are tremendous leaders, and know the ‘ins and outs’ of leading. It is a good feeling being able to repay what leaders like David Vine and Caleb Shroyer once did for me. I want to maintain a positive image for the younger players, and to connect with them on a personal level as much as I can.” Like Bullock, Labensky remembers the respect he had for his captains in previous years and hopes to impact others in the same way. “I’ve always looked up to previous captains, so it’s cool to be in that position now. I want to be the best captain possible and want to be someone my teammates can look up to,” he says.
A Banner Year
Jenkins and his captains all have the same goal. “Our goals are very simple,” says Jenkins, “We want to have a ‘Banner Year.’ We want to be League Champs or make a run in the playoffs—preferably both! However, we try to take a day-to-day approach. We want to make the most of every day and understand its importance to our overall goals.”
“I know this team has what it takes to accomplish it,” says Bullock, “but everyone needs to be 100 percent bought in. My goal as a team is to constantly improve week to week. As long as this team is improving, we will be unstoppable.”
The captains have already seen their teammates step up, give their everything, and fill the shoes of the graduated seniors. “[Senior] Nick Birri always has good energy in the weight room and encourages others to perform their best. I also think [junior] J.R. McCormick will fill a big role on the team this year,” says Labensky. “He has put in a lot of work and had a good season last year. He always does his job.”
“JR McCormick is also probably the hardest worker I have ever met,” agrees Bullock. “He is always asking to go to the field. And [senior] Sedric Ferguson. Sedric started last year, but he has the potential to be one of the best players in the area.”
The 2018 Season
Their 7-3 record last year included losses to Tippecanoe, Franklin, and Valley View. When asked what games they were looking forward to most, the captains and their coach responded unanimously with Franklin, looking to step on the field, prove their determination, and walk off with a win this year. “I’m looking forward the most to play against Franklin because it’s always a big game,” says Labensky, “I haven’t performed the best in the past two years, so I want to redeem myself.” Knisley says the same. “I have a grudge for Franklin because we should have beat them last year,” he admitted.
“I hate the way we lost to [Franklin] last year,” says Jenkins. “It was an ugly game for us filled with self-inflicted mistakes. They will be our first League game. It will also be a home game. We will be ready.”
Bellbrook football begins their track to a Banner Year on Friday, August 24 at 7 p.m. at Tippecanoe High School. The team is looking to improve from a 21-14 loss in the 2017 season.