Analysis | Friday Night Drive

Speed, depth in trenches look like strengths for Erie-Prophetstown

PROPHETSTOWN – With an 8-3 season and 56-20 win over Clifton Central in the opening round of the Class 2A playoffs in 2021, the bar was raised for Erie-Prophetstown football.

With 17 seniors moving on and all but two of last year’s starters with that graduating class, the Panthers will be considerably younger and less experienced this year.

Without the varsity game experience of last year’s team, Erie-Prophetstown is anticipating some growing pains early on. But as the season goes along, the Panthers are confident everyone will get on the same page and the team will start clicking.

“It’s been a learning curve. Just looking at where we were last year compared to this year, we’re not quite as far ahead, and that’s going to come with the lack of experience, just game experience,” coach Jesse Abbott said. “They are a confident group, they are ready to learn, but we’ve gotta maybe work through some things a little bit more than we did and just make sure we have all the details right. And they’re willing to learn them, and they’re willing to get the details right. And so we’ll sacrifice a little pace to get things right, for sure.”

Senior wide receiver/outside linebacker Hunter Bruketta and senior quarterback Jack Minssen expect their younger teammates to acclimate as the season progresses.

“I feel like right now, we’re kind of struggling in practice to just come together, but I feel like as Week 1 comes around, Meet the Panthers, we’ll just become a lot better and get ready for the year,” Bruketta said.

“I think a lot of our younger kids haven’t played a lot, they haven’t started varsity, but I know they’ve all watched all these [past varsity] kids and gotten a ton of reps. And I thinking watching these older kids on the varsity level last year really got them in a good spot and ready for their first year.”

“Just improve every game we’ve got, every opportunity we’ve got. Go out there, and I expect by the end of the year, we’ll be looking in pretty good shape,” Minssen said. “Just sticking together as a team throughout the ups and downs. There’s a lot of ups and downs in the game, and we’ve gotta to stick together through the hard parts and pull all together.”

Minssen, who started at defensive back last year, steps into the sizable shoes of IHSFCA first-team All-State quarterback Kolby Franks, who graduated this spring. Other seniors slated to lead this year’s team are running back Jase Grunder and two-way lineman Clay Hockaday.

Through summer camp and early offseason practices, three primary position groups have stood out to Abbott.

“I think as a whole, our offensive and defensive lines have really stood out. I think they’ve worked really, really hard these first couple weeks. They’re alone a lot in practice, and so they work really hard to learn plays, learn their jobs,” he said. “I’ve liked our receiver group at the varsity level, for sure. They’re a bigger group than we’ve been used to in the past, and they’ve really worked hard to get better.”

In a survey of perceived team strengths going into the year, speed and intelligence were a repeat answer.

“I think we’ve got pretty good speed all across the board. Pretty good smarts for the game, too,” Minssen said.

“Team speed will be one,” Abbott reiterated. “I think that to start, the playbook shrunk a little bit. We were pretty experienced last year, so we’ve been able to really focus on a smaller chunk of plays and get good at those – and they’ve done a good job of play learning. I think just kind of an overall intelligence might be a strength for the team.

“I think one of the things is they’re pretty loose at practice. They don’t show any sort of pressure they might be feeling. I think they are a loose group. They come in, they make mistakes, they move on. They learn from their mistakes. They don’t dwell on things, and that’s going to be a big thing for a group that might not be as experienced as before.”

Erie-Prophetstown will host Mendota for its season opener at 7 p.m. on Aug. 26.