Gielczyk: New Faces Ready to Lead Onekama Back to State Finals
A lot of the old faces are gone, but there are still a couple of familiar faces returning for the Onekama eight-player football team, including at two of the skill positions.
Luke Mauntler ran the offense last year at quarterback, but will give way this season to Taylor Bennett who is several inches taller, and are more imposing physical specimen.
Bennett says he played quarterback when he was younger, so it hasn’t been difficult becoming reacquainted with the position as the Portagers continue preparations for the 2019 season.
“I’m excited,” said Bennett, who plays linebacker on defense. “I think we’re going to have a good year. We have a lot of good guys, with a lot of experience.
“My main responsibility at quarterback is to control the ball, and make sure that we keep the ball at all times when we’re on offense. No turnovers. We have a lot of good receivers.”
The Portagers finished 10-3 last year, winning four in a row before losing, 30-18 to Rapid River in the finals.
With the experience coming back on a 12-man roster, the Portagers expectations of making a return trip to the playoffs and hopefully getting another chance at playing for a state title.
“It was a really cool experience for the guys who were there last year,” Bennett said. “We’re just looking forward to this season, and doing the best we can with what we’ve got.
“We need a lot of our leaders to step up, and we need to play physical like we always do.”
Mauntler says the Portagers have speed in the backfield, and should be just as strong in the running game this year. The Portagers have decent depth there, too.
He, too, is excited about the position switch.
“I like it a lot,” Mauntler said of starting at running back. “Especially with eight-man. Eleven-man was more contained. It’s basically my back against your safety, and you have to break him.
“We want the same mindset as last year. Keep on winning games, and take it one game at a time.”
If things go according to plan, Mauntler could just emerge as the Portagers big threat on offense.
Although the Portagers have experience returning, they did graduate a very dedicated senior class. Every one of those guys will be missed. But the next group has to step in for those guys.
Onekama coach John Neph says the Portagers have had good attendance in the weight room, as well as the summer activities they did and practice. That’s what it’s going to take, he added.
“We have a lot of tough games ahead of us,” Neph said. “There is no easy game on our schedule at all. We have a lot of challenges ahead of us, and we’re trying to get prepared for them.
“Taylor Bennett and Luke Mauntler handled the ball a lot last year. We’re looking for those guys to be our leaders from the skill positions. Some younger guys coming up have to pick up for those who graduated.”
Aaron Powers, Dean Sturgeon and John Neph (the coach’s son) will give the Portagers depth in the backfield.
Onekama returns its offensive line intact. Ben Falk, Austin Harper, Dalron Gray and Jose Lugo are the Portagers’ big guys up front and they have a lot of hard work in front of them.
The Portagers, who have recorded five consecutive seasons, pride themselves on defense. Onekama has held teams down over the past couple years. But coach Neph admits it’s going to be quite a challenge this year.
“A lot of teams out there have a lot good skill players, a lot of fast players, and we’re going to have our work cut out for us,” coach Neph said. “Our linebackers — Taylor Bennett, Wade Sedlar, Matthew Mallison — are tone setters on defense.
“Those big guys I mentioned will be along the defensive line. Luke Mauntler, Johnny Neph and Sturgeon are in the defensive backfield. We have been working really hard on our tackling.
“We’ve got to pursue the ball, and that’s always a challenge. But, we think we have the guys to have a really good season. We just have to work hard, and make sure we know what we’re doing out there.”
If everyone does their job, like the cliché goes, the Portagers should be fine.
Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for story ideas.