Coach: Jerry Rutherford, 29th year, 174-117.
Last year: 9-3 (5-1, SLL).
Forecast: Moving over to coach the Eagles’ defense has been rejuvenating for Rutherford, who has guided Eastwood to the state playoffs in six of the last eight years.
“I just wanted to try it,” said Rutherford, who has always coached the offense. “This is the first time in 29 years that I’ve coached the defense, and I’m really enjoying it.”
Joe Wyant, who has coached at Eastwood for several years as well as at Lakota and Oak Harbor, is coaching the Eagles’ wing-T offense, which averaged 33.6 points in 2009. The Eagles’ defense, which gave up 231 points a year ago, has switched to a 3-3 “stack” alignment, which uses three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs.
“In high school football, you run what fits your personnel,” Rutherford said. “We have more linebacker-type guys than we do defensive linemen. In our case, we have a bunch of 175-pound guys who can run. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Last season the Eagles reached the Division IV playoffs as a No. 8 seed and opened the postseason with a 35-6 road win over top-seeded and seventh-ranked Galion, which was unbeaten. Eastwood then lost to Ottawa-Glandorf 48-3 in the second round.
Eighteen lettermen return from last year, including five on offense and four on defense. The Eagles have 58 players on their roster, including 20 seniors.
Eastwood has to reload at several positions, most notably at quarterback, where Clayton Ruch has graduated, running back (Cody Seifert) and tight end/defensive end, where Clay Rolf has moved on to Bowling Green State University. Leading tackler Seth Hoffman, an honorable mention All-Ohio middle linebacker, also graduated.
Rutherford said the battle for the starting quarterback position is between senior Matt Klink and junior Kyle Dierker.
“Dierker started against Oak Harbor last season and played most of the Rossford game,” Rutherford said. “He does have some experience. It’s kind of up in the air right now. Klink was injured all last year. He’s a taller kid, but they both can play and do the things we’re asking.”
Pernell Conner, a senior who was the team’s leading rusher last year with more than 1,200 yards, returns after earning first-team all-league honors. Junior Zach Conkle and sophomore Marquise Pitts will also see action in the backfield.
“Pitts runs really hard and he’s a fast kid,” Rutherford said. “He was playing fullback for us, but this kid can run. We’re pretty excited about our offensive backfield. We have three or four running backs and we’re really solid there.”
The Eagles return four starters on the offensive line in senior center Taylor Link, a second-team All-SLL pick, junior guard Kris Hayward and senior tackles Jeff Rutherford and Forest Ickes. Rutherford has moved to tight end and will be replaced at tackle by either Abel Steagal or Ryan Chambers.
“We’re pretty solid on the offensive line,” coach Rutherford said. “We are attempting to two-platoon all over. Jeff will also start at defensive end, but we’re attempting to start 22 guys. We’ve never done that, but we’re going to see how that works and kind of play it by ear. Right now we have 38 juniors and seniors on our roster and we think a lot of them can play.”
Junior Chris Hayward will take over the spot vacated by Hoffman at middle linebacker. The Eagles’ other two linebackers will be senior Brandon Abke, who played strong safety last year, and the speedy Conkle, who saw action at running back last season.
The defensive line features returning starters Nick Duncan, a senior, and Jeff Rutherford, while senior corner Nate Wagner has been moved to safety.