Nine months tends to let memories be memories.
Especially when you’re a high school coach — in this case football.
When high schools across Kansas begin their official fall drills today, Brian Hill will likely not mention the undefeated 2016 regular season, nor a convincing first-round Class 6A playoff victory.
Most certainly, he will not discuss with his 2017 Garden City Buffaloes squad how that storybook 2016 season ended in a 42-7 setback to Lawrence-Free State in the second round that ended with a thud.
Nope, it’s a new season, with a lot of new faces and always looking ahead — that’s the Brian Hill way and it seems to work quite well for him and his Buffaloes.
Monday, Hill and his staff are expected to greet about 125 players to the high school practice as they begin preparations for their season opener on Sept. 1 at Wichita East.
“We’ve got a lot of players to replace, but I think through the summer workouts and camps, we were able to identify the guys to do that,” Hill said. “The big factor is that they simply don’t have game experience, and perhaps not at the position where they will play.”
The Buffs return six defensive starters from the 9-1 squad, including heralded lineman DeMarcus Elliott (6-4, 290, Sr.), but the offense will have quite a bit of turnover.
Senior Garret Doll (5-11, 165), who made first team all-WAC at defensive back, has been waiting in the wings to replace Jesse Nunez, and has stepped in admirably thus far, Hill said.
“He’s had a solid summer of absorbing all the system we have,” Hill said of Doll. “His sports IQ is really high, and we’ve put a lot on his shoulders.”
As a three-year starter, the graduated Nunez became one of GCHS’s all-time leading rushers and in touchdowns scored.
“He’s that guy waiting in the wings, and he doesn’t have a lot of game reps,” Hill said of Doll. “But he understands the system, and I think you’ll see us with a more balanced offense of running and throwing the ball.”
In addition to Elliott, who has played both sides of the ball since his freshman season, the Buffs return offensive guard Refujio Chairez (6-1, 300, So.) to anchor the interior. Two senior receivers — Jordan Herrman (6-2, 190) and Andrew Kreutzer (5-8, 165) — will be the weapons for Doll to connect with. Herrman had 12 catches for 150 yards and one touchdown while Kreutzer caught 16 passes for 207 yards and a TD. Those numbers are expected to increase.
Senior Quinton LaPointe, who played mostly in the defensive secondary last season, will move to the tailback position and see limited duty on defense.
“We’ll utilize him in a variety of ways to take advantage of his speed and quickness,” Hill said of LaPointe (5-11, 185). Hill said he was undecided about the fullback position, citing the possibility of just adding another wideout to the offensive scheme.
Senior Jasper Partin (6-0, 205) is another returning defensive lineman after recording 45 tackles, 8.5 for losses, and seven sacks.
Hill said he expected returning starters David Arteaga (5-8, 170, CB) and Tye Davis (6-3, 190, Jr.) to anchor the secondary, along with newcomer Carlos Acosta likely the other corner.
The Buffs’ defense will have to replace its linebacking corps, especially after losing Zeke Herrera to graduation (now at Fort Hays State).
But Hill expects Ryan Jarmer to slot into one of those spots, along with Jack Koehn. Koehn, however, suffered a broken ankle during the summer and likely will miss at least the first two games.
Hill likes his defensive front and says that comfort level leaves him with a positive outlook of replacing the departed graduates.
“We’ve good guys in front of our linebackers, so I expect the front to take care of a lot of the running game from our opponents,” Hill said. “With a good group of linemen and the three secondary spots returning, I feel good about those positions.”
Hill likes where the Buffs’ program is at this stage of his tenure with GCHS. Entering his eighth season, Hill has guided the Buffs to a 45-24 record (.652), has won three WAC titles and reached the playoffs four times.
“When you get to the playoffs, the games are all about match-ups,” Hill said. “For the most part, I feel like when we take the field, we can lineup with most teams in 6A and be competitive.”
He cited not only the fact that he now oversees the youth football program at the middle schools and coordinates his staff with the YMCA football, but also the work that the younger kids have put in with lifting weights.
“The weight room fundamentals, and a lot of hard work has made our kids bigger, stronger, quicker and faster,” Hill said. “I think our younger kids coming into the high school program understand the work ethic that it takes and have a good sense of the culture of the program.”
When Hill assumed the head coaching position in 2010, he had 103 players out for the high school program, with 53 being freshmen and 50 in the upper three classes. Today, those numbers will show about 40 freshmen and about 70-75 in the sophomore through senior groups.
“We’re doing a better job of retention of our older players, which gives us more depth and more experience each year,” Hill said.
Hill said he and his staff, which will include three former players — Cody Bernbeck (quarterbacks), Asa Gottsponer (cornerbacks) and Mitch Moore (offensive line) — will re-start drills with fundamentals since it will have been nearly a month since they were last on the field.
“We’ll have the normal few days before we get into pads later in the week,” Hill said. “Fall’s just a different time. Every year, there’s an air of excitement and to see how the kids have improved from when we started with them at the beginning of the summer.”