MT. CARMEL, ILL. – What a difference a year has made for Michael Brewer.
In 2017, the Mt. Carmel head football coach had his first season at the Hilltop marred by chronic injury problems, enough to keep the Golden Aces out of the IHSA playoffs for only the fourth time since 1982.
“Last year, it seemed for two months, we retaught things to a different guy in a new spot” he said in reflection of a 5-4 finish that fell short of enough at-large points to get in the playoffs.
The second group of Aces Brewer brought to the Riverview Stadium turf Thursday night for their first public performance of 2018 were far from flawless. But, they are a much healthier unit this time around – which means the fixes should come easier.
“We’re leaving here the same as when we came in,” Brewer said. “Health-wise we’re in a pretty good spot. It has made practice so much easier. You can get things done.”
Goals for the “Gator Bowl” scrimmage, with a gate admission of any type of sports drink for use by the team, were many and varied, from knowing “those basic things we have put in since Day One,” all the way up to what Brewer calls “game day operations. You’ve gotten all the reps in practice. But this (scrimmage, under the lights and with referees) is the thing you can’t replicate in practice.”
Following initial play by junior varsity players, the varsity squad ran a set number of plays divided into four periods.
Kaleb Applebey, the 6-foot-5 returnee at quarterback, seemed comfortable at the helm of the offense despite occasional drops.
“He is a talented kid. He’s going to be fine,” said Brewer of the sophomore who had been firmly ensconced as a starter by midway into his rookie season. “He makes strides every single day. He wasn’t around for all the summer stuff because he was doing some other things (notably basketball). He is a fantastic athlete.”
Applebey threw for 1,145 yards last year on 69-of-149 accuracy, with eight passes for touchdowns. Back as well is his top receiver, 6-4 senior Austin Rager, and junior wide receiver Satchel Patberg.
Brewer plans a change in the backfield. Blake Kight will move from setback to H-back, to better utilize the 5-11, 220-pound senior’s blocking ability. That leaves a running back spot available, and the scrimmage served as an open audition for a group looking to get playing time there.
Though a former Hilltop star and assistant coach for several of Darren Peach’s record-setting 16-year tenure which ended in 2016, Brewer still faced a learning curve as a head coach last season The professional growth since has made this year’s pre-season more manageable.
“I feel like I’m more prepared,” Brewer said. “As a group, I’ve done a better job of communicating and having a long-term plan. Everyone’s comfort level is a little better than it was last year.”
Mt. Carmel opens the season at Harrisburg on Aug. 24, then stays on the road the following Friday for its Big Eight Conference opener at Mt. Vernon, Ind. The Aces return to Riverview Stadium on Sept. 7 for the home opener against Princeton.