All the evidence says Wood Memorial football men will be overmatched in Friday's 7 p.m. CDT Southwest Conference matchup at unbeaten Eastern Greene, Indiana's No. 6-ranked Class A team by both The Associated Press and the Indiana Football Coaches Association. And No. 5 in Class A according to the Sagarin Ratings.
Yet this matchup is better than not playing.
"Given what Eastern Greene has, we don't match up very well with them. They're big, fast, well-coached and very sound fundamentally," said Wood Memorial Coach Bret Kramer, whose Trojans, vastly outnumbered with 17 available players including just three seniors and two juniors, will take an 0-3 record to the school located midway between Bloomington and Bloomfield.
"But our young men will battle. They never hang their heads, never give up. They give you their best effort," said Kramer, whose feelings about playing Eastern Greene are matched by former Wood Memorial coach Joey Paridaen, who has guided
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the Thunderbirds to 27 wins around 11 losses in four seasons after coaching the Trojans in 2012 and 2013.
"'My heart goes out to Wood Memorial, since that's where I started my head coaching career," said Paridaen, 1999 Gibson Southern grad who as a senior line starter helped the 1998 Titans to a 9-3 record that marked their first winning season since 1985.
"I'm happy that they're playing football again. Coach Kramer assisted me (by coaching receivers and defensive backs) my two years at Wood Memorial. He's a great guy to talk with. They do have some tough kids and they all play hard, especially considering how few players they have."
While the Trojans remain without Jordan Hendrix, 125-pound sophomore injured in the 18-8 September 1 loss to Rock Creek Academy, they gain Levi Smithhart, 180-pound senior receiver and lineman who will make his high school football debut. "Levi came out for football for the first time, he will have gotten the required number of practices to play Friday and he will play," said Kramer, who noted that "we need big bodies go against Eastern Greene's big kids."
The hope is that Mason Williams, 5-foot-5, 197-pound senior recovering from an ankle injury, can play Friday. "If the doctor clears Mason, we'll probably put him in the defensive line. He can close holes and make a running back go where the back doesn't want to go," said Kramer.
The Thunderbirds, whose 58.75 points per game stand second statewide in Class A and third overall, hub around 6-foot, 215-pound senior Caleb Hamilton, who, after playing running back in early years, now plays the quarterback role he undertook in 2016 when a teammate was injured. "A big, physical kid who runs well and is getting better at decision-making," said Paridaen, who each day commutes from his Fort Branch home.
"He's our best athlete and is interested in playing college football. Thy University of Indianapolis has talked with Caleb. So have Division III schools like Franklin and Wabash. He definitely has the ability to play at the next level,. And J.W. Howard, our tight end, will try to play at Rose-Hulman."
As sophomores at the high school that fielded its first football team in 2002, Hamilton and the 200-pound Howard impacted Eastern Greene's first winning record in 2015, when the Thunderbirds went 8-3 in Pariaden's second season there. Last autumn they went 10-3 and celebrated their first sectional title before a 56-7 regional loss to eventual C lass A state champion and now 2A Linton-Stockton.
Wood Memorial fans can identify with Hamilton. "His grit and determination remind me of Jacob Rowe," Kramer said of the running back and linebacking standout who in 1996 led the Trojans to their only sectional title, and then played at Purdue as a short-yardage-situation blocking back and a kickoff receiving team up-back and in the latter role started the 2001 Rose Bowl game.
"Like Jacob, Hamilton will do whatever he can to compete. He's the real deal."
Hamilton, Howard and teammates have led their coach to raise the bar. "Our goal is to make a deep run in the playoffs and be one of the final two teams standing in Class A. With 18 seniors and our entire offensive line back from last year, I like our depth. And I feel we have the players and mindset in place," said Paridaen, who is "pretty pleased with how we've played."
While Wood Memorial's immediate goals are far more modest, Kramer identities. "We've worked on the little things throughout the season and we're making progress," he said. "Against North Knox last week we played a horrendous first quarter. But the second half we played really good football. Our guys never gave up."
Though beaten by 21 points, Wood Memorial's 22 marked its best 2017 offensive output. Senior Wyatt Hunt will again quarterback the Trojans. Sophomore Luke Price will open at fullback, freshmen Kaden Riley and Tyler Miskell on the wings, sophomore Nathan Pitcher at tight end perhaps Smithart as a receiver. Two-hundred-fifty-three-pound freshman Dylan Frederick will center, with junior Treven Mayer (163) at guard and freshman Braden Lee (164) at tackle. Williams and freshman Gramm Collins (208) could interchange at guard and tackle.
Defensively, Williams and Lee may start in the interior, flanked by Price and junior Beav Grider (213) at end. Maier and Collins are inside linebackers,. Riley and Miskell outside, Hunt and Pitcher may open at cornerback and freshman Jordan Cooper at free safety, with Smithhart apt to see action in both roles.
Hamilton and Howard are joined in Eastern Greene's attack by junior running back Nick Fox (165), junior slotback Jaden Evans (165) and the senior wide receiver duo of Ethan Helton (165) and Joel Weimer (160). Senior Brady Anderson (270) centers, flanked by senior Wyatt Scott (275) and junior Gage Baker (305) at guard. Senior Eli Britton (220) and junior Garrett Vest (265) are the tackles. Anderson plays nose guard and 300-pound senior Josh Vincent tackle on defense, with seniors Logan Lloyd (205) and Shon Carter (165) at end. Juniors Levi Southern (230) and Zach Terry (205) are inside linebackers, Weimer and junior Blayne Campbell (200) outside, Senior Jackson Rogers (160) plays safety, with senior Cayden Sego (175) and junior Drake Robertson (160) the corners.
Returning home, the Trojans have an open date next Friday before hosting North Davises Septebmer 29. The Thunderbirds will visit Perry Central on Sat., Sept. 23.