In a few weeks, the leading rusher, leading passer, leading tackler, top kicker and top punter for the South Effingham Mustangs football team will each graduate.
That puts a renewed emphasis on spring practice, which got under way Monday, for coach Greg Manior and his team.
“We’re just looking for some young guys to step up and fill holes on the defensive line, at quarterback, fullback and some spots on the offensive line,” he said.
The Mustangs are losing 20 seniors off last year’s 6-4 team, and there are only eight rising seniors. But the rising junior class is strong in numbers, Manior said.
“The question is, how do you replace those guys?” he said. “But you always have guys waiting in the wings. In spring, you find out if they’re close to being ready. You have good kids and they graduate and go and do good things, and you start all over again.”
Even with those daunting prospects, Manior entered the two weeks of spring drills with a great deal of optimism.
“We’ve gotten to a point where we’re strong,” he said. “Our guys know what it means now. I feel pretty good about this group.”
The Mustangs are missing two projected starters who are busy playing baseball, Tanner Burch and Jace Daley. Burch is expected to play either strong safety or linebacker, and Daley will be a halfback.
South Effingham has to find a fullback to replace Gage Marks, who led the team with 961 yards and 12 touchdowns. Wesley Ricks was Marks’ backup last year and is a different style of runner than the bruising Marks.
Robbie Collum likely will get the majority of snaps at quarterback this spring, taking over for Jeff Hamilton. Freshman Ian Byrd, currently playing baseball, is expected to compete in the fall.
“Those are two good guys right there,” Manior said.
Manior’s players have been able to lure a few of their non-playing brethren out of the halls and onto the practice field. Still, numbers are an issue for the Mustang.
“We’re not very deep,” Manior said. “We’re not deep on either the offensive line or defensive line. We’re not very deep in the backfield.”
There could be some linemen who play both ways next fall, and there could be some freshmen on the field for the varsity as well.