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  • Val T.

Culver football preview: Foust follows Zehner at Culver, builds new line

BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS

Sports Editor, RTC

It’s true that the Culver football team graduated RTC Player of the Year, all-Hoosier North player and school all-time leading rusher Shane Shuman after last season.

But three other all-conference players – Ben Lee, Steven Pugh and Devin Burkett – also graduated. They were all linemen.

And Culver coach Mike Zehner also stepped down. Zehner stayed on as the school’s athletic director, and he will also be involved in coaching at the middle school level this year.

The new coach is Austin Foust, a 2010 Rochester grad who also won 16 games in five seasons at John Glenn from 2017-21.

Foust has known Zehner since he was a sophomore in high school. Then-Rochester coach Mark Miller brought in Zehner to be his linebackers coach and later defensive coordinator, and Foust was a fireplug inside linebacker. Foust was there at Zehner’s 6 a.m. weightlifting sessions, and Foust said a “positive relationship” developed.

When Foust was the John Glenn coach, a phone call late on a Friday night between Zehner and him rehashing their respective games earlier in the evening was not uncommon.

Last year, Zehner brought in Foust as an assistant coach and offensive play caller at Culver. Foust decided to apply for the head job when Zehner stepped down.

Foust and his wife Emily have three children under the age of 5 – including a two-month-old newborn – and the Foust family just built a home on the family farm. A shorter drive to Culver made more sense than a longer one to John Glenn.

Now his job is to figure out who his skill position players and linemen are going to be.

“Coach Zehner brought me here from John Glenn to coach together,” Foust said. “When I was coming down here, I think the first original plan was hopefully it was going to last a little bit longer with me as an assistant coach and Mike as the head coach because obviously, the relationship and the rapport and everything and him being one of my mentors. It was awesome to coach together last year. It was really, really fun, but obviously, new things are on the table for him and wanting to coach his kids in middle school, and I understand that. So it was being there and wanting to try to keep the same kind of culture and tradition that Mike had set, so I felt like I needed to be the guy to step up and take that role.”

Foust wants to keep the culture that Zehner built as he notched four winning seasons in seven years.

“It’s hugely important,” Foust said. “We’ve got a young football team. You graduate 10 seniors from a 1A school of this size, and that’s a huge impact that you have to hope you can replace with that freshman class. So we’ve got a young team. I think we have some good upperclassmen pieces that mesh with those young kids, so we’re going to have to develop them as we go. And you know, there are going to be some freshmen that are going to have to play on a Friday night and get that experience.”

There are 19 freshmen and sophomores on the varsity roster. Two of them are sophomore twin brothers Jonas and Caleb McCuen. Jonas McCuen will be the starting quarterback, and Caleb will be one of his primary receiving targets.

Junior Ethan Binion is the top returning rusher and receiver, and he will line up behind JOnas McCuen.

Senior Jack Rodgers, a transfer from Culver Academy, will join Binion in the backfield.

While Zehner’s offense typically featured two tight ends, Foust will likely go with one tight end to try and take advantage of what he said is greater athleticism at the skill positions.

Brady Kindernay will move from receiver to tight end. Ryan Beem will play slot receiver with Caleb McCuen lining up wide.

Braiden Molebash is the most experienced returning lineman and will move from guard to center. Sophomore Theron Carrington and freshman Drake Zorich are the guards. Junior Logan Caudill and sophomore Izaya Vela will be the tackles.

“Devin, Ben and Steven … those were the core three that you could rely on,” Foust said. “There were a lot of times last year where maybe if the first half didn’t go the best, we just kind of told them, ‘Hey, in the second half, we’re just going to smash mouth football. Can you guys handle it?’ … They would kind of assert their will as the game went on for us.

“It’s going to be a little different this year. We’re not as big up front. I think we’re quicker and more athletic up front, so we’re going to have to do some different things in moving some guys. But I think our season goes with the development as of our offensive line. If we can get some cohesiveness, if we can get guys understanding what it takes on a Friday night to be able to move the ball, I think we’re going to be OK.”

Carrington and Vela will play defensive tackle, and Binion and Caudill will play defensive end in the four-man front. Rodgers and Molebash will be the inside linebackers, and Kindernay and Caleb McCuen will be the outside linebackers. Senior Hayden Parker and junior Tony Sommers will man the cornerback spots while Jonas McCuen will play safety

Coaching staff

Kyle Klinge returns to the staff to work with the offensive and defensive linemen. Justin Croy also returns to the staff with offensive linemen and linebackers. Collin Stevens is a newcomer to the staff and will work with quarterbacks and defensive backs. Auston Zehner, a 2022 Culver grad, will also work with offensive and defensive linemen.

2023 schedule

Aug. 18 – vs. North Judson, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 25 – at South Central (Union Mills), 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 1 – vs. Knox, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 8 – at West Central, 7 p.m.

Sept. 15 – vs. Triton, 7 p.m.

Sept. 22 – at Winamac, 7 p.m.

Sept. 29 – at Caston, 7 p.m.

Oct. 6 – vs. Pioneer, 7 p.m.

Oct. 13 – at LaVille, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 20 – Class 1A, Sectional 41 quarterfinal

2024 schedule

Foust said that each Hoosier North team will play nonconference games in Weeks 1 and 2 starting in 2024. West Central will stay on Culver’s schedule but move from Week 4 to Week 2. Foust also said that Culver is looking for a Week 1 opponent in 2024.

South Central will become a conference game and move back from Week 2 to a yet-to-be-determined date. North Judson will move back from its Week 1 spot on the schedule. North Miami, a new conference rival, will also be added.

Class 1A, Sectional 41

Culver

Pioneer

Bowman Academy

North Judson

North Newton

South Central (Union Mills)

South Newton

Triton


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