The beginning of fall camp is so close the Mitchell High School football team can smell it.
The realization became ever more clear when the Kernels strapped on pads Thursday for their annual two-day big man camp at Joe Quintal Field. Mitchell linemen were able to get a taste of contact with practices officially beginning on Aug. 9.
Newly appointed offensive coordinator and veteran offensive line coach Eric Witte acknowledges that no jobs will be won or lost in the camp, but it was the culmination of a summer’s worth of weekly training sessions and for players to get accustomed to playing football again.
“It’s different than other things we’ve done like Monday night football — because that’s obviously with no pads — and when we get to put pads on, that means summer is coming to an end,” Witte said. “That’s a nice little check heading into the season and it’s a way to get kids locked in.”
Although Witte is taking over from Joe Kramer, who returned to call plays the last two seasons after a brief retirement, he will not be making many drastic changes to the offense.
Mitchell also returns two of its five starters on the offensive line from last season, as both Adam Fahey and Kendell Fick have two years of starting experience. Junior Braden Szabo and sophomores Camen Max and Connor Hohn saw playing time on defense toward the end of the season and could be in position to help fill the gaps left on offense by the graduation of all-state tackle Ben Ziebarth, three-year starter Wyatt Winter and two-year starter Nick Rubendall.
The Kernels produced one of the most prolific rushing attacks in program history last season, rushing for 324 yards per game. They will have to replace Parker Phillips’ 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns, but Tucker Vilhauer (990 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Josh Grosdidier (432 yards and 13 touchdowns) both return.
Mitchell did, however, work on improving its passing attack over the summer. The Kernels completed 22 passes all season and connected on 35.8% of passes during the last three seasons, with 11 touchdowns and 25 interceptions.
Vilhauer and Treyson Schulz are both projected to see playing time at quarterback this season. Schulz saw action in seven games, while Vilhauer was the primary starter.
“Kids understand their roles and what we’re doing,” Witte said. “The biggest thing we worked on Monday night football was our sets and becoming a little more dynamic in the passing game. With that has come timing. The guys that are going to make a difference for us on Friday nights have been here on Monday nights. … You never get as far ahead as you would like, but it feels like we’re in a good place going into the season.”
While Mitchell will use this week’s camp to make progress, Witte was more concerned about getting acclimated to practices and creating excitement as the Kernels attempt to erase thoughts of last year’s 3-7 campaign that ended with seven-straight losses.
“It's a nice guage of where guys are at and what we need to focus on,” Witte said. “Once you have pads on and are working against somebody, we can actually get some stuff done. It’s a nice way to incorporate stuff into what we’re doing.”