MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. – Mount Carmel’s annual pre-season football scrimmage – the Gator Bowl – is usually about the players, their readiness, and position posturing for the season ahead.
This year, it was more about the coaches.
For this year, for the first time since 2001, there was a change of head coaches. Along with Michael Brewers’ ascension to the top came changes to his staff. That made Thursday’s annual scrimmage a dress rehearsal for players and coaches.
“It’s a pretty big adjustment,” said Brewer after the one-hour varsity scrimmage to close out the program at Riverview Stadium. Last year, his sixth as an assistant to Darren Peach, Brewer was up in the booth with headphones on. “I wasn’t calling the plays. Darren was.”
All things considered, he said the Gator Bowl was “probably better for me than anyone else, to come out here, get everybody organized, see where we know where to go, and call some plays. I was happy with the communication among our coaches. A couple of times we didn’t get the right guys on the field. So that gives us something we need to work on before next Friday (the season opener against Harrisburg).”
Not that Brewer, a 2003 Hilltop graduate, will have it easy in his transition to the sidelines. The Golden Aces suffered heavy graduation losses from a 10-1 Class 3A playoff team, which took out 93.8% of their rushing yards from last year (led by career record holder Trevor Kennard’s senior total of 1,699 yards followed closely by quarterback Daxton Peach’s 1,506), along with 81.4% of their receiving yards (an inflated figure, in a way, because junior Austin Rager, second in receptions last year with 17 for 239 yards and three touchdowns, will start this year at quarterback instead).
Also lost are senior Jackson Marcotte, who has already committed to Wyoming in 2018, to a career-ending knee injury, and junior Noah Singer, who transferred to Gibson Southern, where he started on Friday night in the Titans opener.
But looks can be deceiving. Believe it or not, the cupboard isn’t bare. On offense, the Aces return lots of size up front, and an able-bodied stable of skilled backs ready to step into full-time jobs. On defense, four of the team’s top 10 tacklers from last year are back, as well as their best pickoff threat in the secondary.
Plus, the numbers are up. The roster handed out to the better-than-average gathering at the Gator Bowl showed 50 names, only three of those freshman.
“I think it was good for our kids to be able to go and play,” said Brewer of the action on the field.
“Our first group on defense I was pleased with. There were a lot of mistakes we still need to clean up, but I guess that’s to be expected from your first scrimmage of the year.”
As big as they are, the front lines are still very young. They may indeed grow into monster units but for now they’re still learning. Brewer sees them coming.
“Last week and this week I thought we made some big strides in practice with our offensive line, and whoever the (running) back is, we’ll go as far as the guys up front will take us. That’s promising.”
In a rare twist of fate, the August 25th opener pitting two storied southern Illinois powers will feature not one but two newbie coaches. The conclusion of Peach’s 16-year tenure as Mount Carmel’s winningest coach, and the subsequent elevation of Brewer was well-documented. But Harrisburg, too, went through a coaching change over the summer. Gone is Al Way (after two separate stints as head coach), replaced by assistant Gabe Angelly, who is tasked with getting the Bulldogs back to the post-season after a 4-5 finish one year ago.
While it was assumed that Angelly or someone from the Harrisburg camp was in attendance at the Aces’ look-see, Brewer planned to be in Harrisburg on Friday to catch a glimpse of the Bulldogs’ preview
He’s not sure what he’ll see, but the trip will be worth it.
“I’m not sure how much you can get from one of these scrimmages,” Brewer said. “They could show me everything, they could show not much at all and I wouldn’t know. But it will be an opportunity for us coaches to just talk, about tonight, what we saw and what we need to adjust.”