Caston football preview:Shafer, Hickle could share time at QB, but look for Comets to count on Smith
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Will Porter is beginning his second season as the football coach at Caston.
That means the players are more familiar with the triple option offense that Porter brought to Caston.
The offense – Porter calls it the “flexbone” – gained immediate results. Caston broke a 29-game losing streak with a season-opening win over West Central last year, and their three wins were as many as the previous four seasons combined.
They scored 30 or more points in a game three times last season after doing it only twice in the previous five seasons combined.
Their 34-28 win over North Miami on Oct. 23, 2020, gave them a sectional game win for the first time in six years.
“Last year was a lot of firsts,” Porter said.
It does not necessarily mean that there is clarity at the quarterback spot, where Porter is considering playing time to both Landon Shafer and Grant Hickle.
Regardless of who is the quarterback, they will be handing off to senior fullback Sam Smith.
Those watching Caston play will have a tough time ignoring Smith as he is also the reigning Hoosier North Defensive Player of the Year. Smith won that award playing linebacker last year, and he will try to repeat as a strong safety this year.
“He means the world to our team, but he is the type of leader that’s going to lead by example,” Porter said. “He is a kid that’s there every day trying to get better, working hard at his craft. … He plays basketball, baseball and football. So he’s always busy. He’s always doing something. … He definitely has a bright future in whatever he decides to do academically.”
Smith ran for 1,035 yards, and he had 15 of the team’s 21 rushing touchdowns last year. Hickle and Shafer had 427 yards between them.
Porter said Hickle and Shafer will both start somewhere on offense, even if that player is not at quarterback.
Porter describes Hickle as a “tall, gifted athlete” and Shafer as a “strong, stable kid.”
“We’ve had kind of a competition over the summer, and we might play a little bit of both,” Porter said. “It might not totally rectify itself as being one clearcut starter and the other person doing something else. They’re both going to start either way. If it’s not quarterback, then they’re playing another position. We run a flexbone offense, so we need another halfback. We graduated four halfbacks, so we’ve got to fill those spots.”
Porter compares the quarterback in the flexbone to a point guard in basketball.
“He’s got to get his eyes up, and he’s got to be looking at his key on the defense and know what he’s go to do,” Porter said. “It’s a mentally tough position, and it’s an athletically tough position because a kid’s got to be nimble on their feet. They don’t have to necessarily be the fastest guy, but they’ve got to be good athletes where they can move and make decisions.”
Porter said he learned the flexbone from Bob Bridge when Bridge was the defensive coordinator at Southwood and Porter was the head coach at Wabash. Porter did his student teaching at New Prairie High School and said he had a “working relationship” with then-Cougars coach Bart Curtis, an option proponent who is now the coach at Warsaw.
He also once traveled down to Georgia Tech to learn the option from coaches like Paul Johnson and Jeff Monken, who worked on Johnson’s staff before bringing the offense to Georgia Southern and Army, where he currently coaches.
After Wabash, Porter carried the flexbone with him to South Vermillion and South Bend Clay. Now he has the Caston players talking about the offense.
“We’ve got seniors that are talking to the underclassmen, and the underclassmen (are saying), ‘No, this is how we need to do this,’ or ‘No, no, we want to do it this way.’ They understand what we’ve been teaching them, and we’re starting to see them ask on, and that’s what we hoped for,” Porter said.
Caston allowed 41 points per game last year in their eight losses. This is where they have to work around having only 21 players on their roster.
“It’s just a matter of Jimmys and Joes,” Porter said. “Having enough guys to stay with some of the bigger schools. Our conference is deep as far as talented teams. We’re definitely not losing to teams with bad records.”
Porter is stressing conditioning, so players don’t get worn out. He said Caston will likely have 10 two-way starters.
“We’ve got to do a better job of conditioning and get better for that,” Porter said. “It’s just a matter of finding more guys and building up our roster.”
Porter said the team went to a camp that Curtis hosted and another camp at Manchester University.
“We’re definitely in a better spot now,” Porter said. “As far as schemes, we know what we want to do and ready to see how we do against some live bullets.”
Aug. 20 – vs. West Central, 7 p.m.
Aug. 27 – at North Judson, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 3 – at Triton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 10 – vs. Pioneer, 7 p.m.
Sept. 17 – vs. LaVille, 7 p.m.
Sept. 24 – at North White, 7 p.m.
Oct. 1 – vs. Culver, 7 p.m.
Oct. 8 – at Winamac, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 – vs. Knox, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 22 – Class 1A, Sectional 41 quarterfinal
Class 1A, Sectional 41 (records last year)
Lake Station (0-9)
North Judson (9-3)
South Central (Union Mills) (4-6)
South Newton (0-6)
West Central (2-8)
Preseason rankings: Winamac is No. 10, and North Judson is No. 12.
NOTE: Winamac is the defending sectional champion. Caston has never won a football sectional title. Caston was reassigned from Sectional 44 to Sectional 41 following the 2020 season. Caston has lost to the eventual sectional champion in the sectional in each of the last two years.
Watch Caston Football and Volleyball previews on Talking Sports with Val here: