There aren’t many sports in which speed and quickness do not play a major role, and football is certainly one in which it is an absolute necessity.
So, while one can lament the fact that the St. Bede football program now is without Tyreke Fortney, one of the fastest athletes in the school’s long and storied history, the Bruins are preparing to at least partially compensate for that loss with a little less speed and a lot more size.
Fortney, who now enjoys preferred walk-on status with the Illinois State University football program, already has shown the Redbirds the speed that helped him total 41 catches for 992 yards and 10 touchdowns receiving and 38 carries for 302 yards and five scores rushing for the Bruins last fall, along with second-place medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the Boys Track and Field State Meet in May in Charleston.
The fact that he finished first in ISU’s summer sprint work bodes well for his chances in Normal.
SBA coach Jim Eustice feels that while Fortney’s speed cannot be replaced, his team may be able to fill some of those lost yards and TDs with experience on offense with four slightly slower but much taller receivers than the 5-foot-9 speedster.
“Tyreke was a special once-in-a-generation type player for a program our size. To lose that kind of speed, replacing it is impossible,” Eustice said. “But we have some experience coming back, including our quarterback, John Brady, and three offensive linemen, and we have some height in the receiving corps, which is something that honestly I haven’t had in my 32 years of coaching.
“Sometimes you get one kid at 6-3, 6-4, but now we’ve got four or five of them. It’s very unusual, so there are some things we’re trying to do with that height to take advantage of that. We’ll be working hard to make sure we get them the ball.”
That quartet of receivers – both wideouts and tight ends – who all are 6-3 or better are Connor Brown, Evan Entrican, Landon Jackson and Ben Wallace, with 6-0 Calym Setser also involved on the perimeter when not in the backfield.
Getting them the ball will be Brady, a senior and News Tribune All-Area and Three Rivers Conference Mississippi Division Second-Team choice after throwing for 1,699 yards and 14 TDs in SBA’s 8-3 playoff season in the fall.
“Tyreke played a big part in our offense as a big playmaker, and it will be a big loss,” Brady said. “But I feel we have a lot of guys who are going to step up and fill that role. Having three or four bigger receivers to throw jump balls to and have them go get it is going to be nice. It’s easier to put the ball where defenders can’t get it when the receivers have a longer [reach] range and can go get a ball.
“I felt pretty good about [Thursday’s 7-on-7] because I felt more on the same page with the receivers compared to last week, that we had our timing with the receivers down more. We have a long way to go still, but we’re improving every day in practice.”
With the running game losing Luke Story to graduation, that ground work falls to Setser, Callan Hueneburg, Ryan Brady and Seth Ferrari, who have talent but are somewhat unknown quantities. That makes the passing game’s efficiency even more vital early in the season.
“Running back is a question mark,” Eustice said. “We were missing that until Luke Story came back [from injury], but now he’s gone. Now we’ve got Callan and Calym between our Z spot and R spot, so we’ll be OK there.
“We have 13 seniors and just six juniors, but there are 14 sophomores and 14 freshmen out, too, so I like the numbers. We’ve also added some coaches to help bring the underclassmen along a little quicker. It’s a good group, and we’re excited about the possibilities.”