Caston football preview: Back for second stint as coach, Ulerick emphasizing defense, offensive line
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Chris Ulerick is back as the head football coach at Caston.
He had previously coached from 1998-2014 but had worked on the coaching staffs of Tony Slocum and Will Porter since.
Porter informed school administrators in February that he intended to step down. Ulerick, who was familiar with the players, wanted to replace him, and the school board officially hired him in April.
Caston is seeking their first winning season since the Ulerick-coached Comets went 8-3 in 2012. Caston has not won a conference game since 2016.
“I had helped sporadically throughout my hiatus of not coaching,” Ulerick said. “When it opened back up, it worked that we were able to keep a familiar face for the kids. That’s the biggest thing at any school, especially at a small school that has struggled. At least they know what they’re getting with the guy that’s in charge.”
Ulerick called the summer “decent.”
“We got work done,” Ulerick said. “We’re farther along than what I thought. I thought Friday’s scrimmage (against Northfield) showed that we could open-field tackle, and that was a glaring problem for us in the last three or four years. But I thought we did tackle in the open field very well. We’ve got to do a little bit better job of executing our techniques on defense. If we can clean that up, I think we can be OK.”
Ulerick balances coaching with a commitment to 4-H, and he is understanding of those players who might have interests beyond football.
“With me doing this, I allow the kids, if they’re in 4-H and have extracurriculars, we have to remember that most of these kids are not going on to play college sports,” Ulerick said. “So if they have a need, a want and a desire and that’s their thing, I try to schedule everything opposite of when they’re trying to do their 4-H stuff or their real desire in life.
“We’ve got to get kids out to play football, and the more we have, the better.”
Quarterback Grant Hickle and fullback Sam Smith combined for 1,699 of Caston’s 2,051 rushing yards last year. They also scored 17 of Caston’s 21 rushing touchdowns.
“They are very good players, and they’re going to be hard to replace,” Ulerick said of Smith and Hickle. “But we have some other kids that I don’t know if they were underutilized, they just weren’t utilized last year. There’s only one football, but we try to get the ball out in as many hands right now as possible.”
Junior Kyle Roudebush, who had 201 yards, is the leading returning rusher.
Landon Shafer will be the starting quarterback. He is in his fourth year on the varsity. Freshman Gavin Mollenkopf will back Shafer up and will also see time at tight end.
Senior Josh Sullivan and freshman Jabez Yarber could also get carries. Senior Evan Howard could get touches at a slot back position, and senior Jayden Wilson is a 6-4 wide receiver.
“There’s several kids on our team that could put their hands on the football and go if we get them into space,” Ulerick said.
Ulerick said an emphasis has been placed on offensive line play. Ulerick has installed a wing-T offense that emphasizes guards being able to get on their feet and pull. Levi Martin and Chase Angot are juniors and Landen Ehlinger is a freshman, and those three are competing for two guard spots.
“That’s where a lot of our time as a coaching staff is going to be spent is making sure that our guys up front are very well aware that they’re the ones that determine the football game,” Ulerick said. “Not the guys in the back.”
Junior Pete DuVall returns at center, an important position in that Ulerick’s offense involves a shotgun snap on every play.
Sophomores Noah Herd and Nick Townsend and juniors Tanner Sutton and Liam Wilburn will compete for time at the tackle spots.
Ulerick has typically preferred a three-man front on defense with a havoc-causing nose tackle. Unable to find that nose tackle, he said he is going with a four-man front.
“We’re going to go to more of an even-front defense,” Ulerick said. “It’s not that we haven’t run an even front before. We’ve always kind of adjusted to it, and I let the kids tell me what they can and can’t do. Right now, we’re pretty vanilla. Against a team like Northfield that we scrimmaged, you can’t call a lot of stunts. … We give our kids keys. They are supposed to be disciplined, and right now, we are not. We are going to work on that a lot.
“But I believe in discipline. I believe that if you read your key and do what your offensive guy tells you to do, the offensive guys are not going to lie. … If guys can focus in and just do their job, then things will go a lot better for them than what they did Friday.”
Ulerick said that Caston will attempt a two-point conversion after every touchdown.
Shafer has punted in the past, and Grant Yadon has experience with kickoffs.
The week between the scrimmage and the season opener is often dedicated to fleshing out special teams roles.
“Unless I have Pat McAfee show up, I haven’t seen him yet in practice,” Ulerick quipped.
Pat Rombold, Tony Slocum and Joe Flitcraft are on Ulerick’s coaching staff. Rombold and Slocum are former head coaches, and Flitcraft is a veteran assistant.
Rombold helps with linemen. Slocum had been coaching junior high at Maconaquah. Flitcraft was retained from Porter’s staff and will oversee the offense.
“Defense is my main thing,” Ulerick said. “Offense is something that we do in between playing defense.”
Asked about the 2012 team, Ulerick was humble while also perhaps reflecting his coaching philosophy.
“That has nothing to do with the guy in charge,” Ulerick said. “That’s all about the kids and their ability to take coaching and their ability to want to win. That’s something as the coach and the coaching staff … that’s our job is to teach that. If you can get kids to believe in that and believe in themselves, tell them they’ve got to believe the guy in the mirror more than anybody else … but if they can believe in the guy in the mirror and know the guys around them are also believing in the guy in the mirror, then good things happen for them.
“There’s pieces there now that we can do better than what we have been,” Ulerick said. “I’m not saying we’re going to be the state champion, but I’m saying we should be competitive and in some football games.”
Aug. 19 – at West Central, 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 – vs. North Judson, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 – vs. Triton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 – at Pioneer, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 – at LaVille, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 – vs. North White, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 – at Culver, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 – vs. Winamac, 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 – at Knox, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 – Class 1A, Sectional 43 quarterfinal
Class 1A, Sectional 43