By George Bremer The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ELWOOD — 2,170.
The number will define Elwood’s football season. It’s the total number of rushing yards needed by senior running back Sammy Mireles to set the state record for a high school career.
Indianapolis Cathedral’s Otis Shannon holds the standard with 7,560 yards. The 2000 Mr. Football award winner rushed for a state-record 3,252 yards as a junior in 1999 and holds the single-game record with 489 yards against Cincinnati LaSalle that same season.
Shannon’s teams won Class 4A state titles in 1998 and 1999 and featured future NFL talent in offensive lineman Jeremy Trueblood (now with the Washington Redskins) and defensive lineman Mathias Kiwanuka (now with the New York Giants).
That’s impressive company for Mireles and the Panthers to attempt to join. But the shifty running back set his sights on the record almost as soon as his junior season came to an end.
“Honestly, it’s our program’s goal,” Elwood head coach Marty Wells said. “And what a feather in the cap for the program it would be. You’re talking about the leading rusher in Indiana history. That’s pretty special.”
And no one is under the misconception it will be easy.
If the Panthers play the minimum of 10 games this season, including a guaranteed first-round sectional contest, Mireles will need to average 217 yards each week to set the record.
He averaged 207.1 yards per game during his first season as a varsity starter in 2011 and bumped that total up to 223.6 yards per game last season. He set a school single-game record with 429 yards against Oak Hill as a sophomore and now owns the two best single-season rushing totals in Elwood history (2,460 last year and 2,071 in 2011).
Wells believes Mireles also could become the first running back in state history to record three consecutive 2,000-yard rushing seasons.
But he’ll have to do it behind a rebuilt offensive line. The Panthers graduated both guards and the center from last year’s unit. Jacob Nutt takes over at center, with Jalen Snell and Ethan Morris playing on either side.
The tackles are returning starters Chase Duncan and Hayden Ferguson.
Elwood also lost starting quarterback Austin Dauenhauer, who threw for 975 yards and 13 touchdowns last season to help lead the Panthers to an 8-3 record and the Central Indiana Conference championship.
He’ll be replaced by Mireles’ younger brother, Alex, who will direct a read-option attack. Senior Bryce Graves, who had 214 yards and four touchdowns on just 28 carries last year, will join Sammy Mireles in a two-back rushing attack.
Most plays will include an option for either running back to carry the ball or for Alex Mireles to keep it himself. Many could also include a passing element with seniors London Leavell (19 catches for 492 yards and 7 scores in 2012) and Jared Bourff (15, 239, 3) as the most likely targets.
All of which is designed to keep defenses guessing even as the focus remains on Sammy Mireles.
“It’s like I always tell the kids, ‘I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but I am in the top 10,’” Wells said. “Sammy’s gonna get his touches, I can guarantee that.”
Elwood’s own defense could be the key to the team’s chances of repeating in the CIC. Senior Anthony Bennett is playing for the first time since his freshman season and will line up as a 6-foot-4, 325-pound nose guard.
He’ll be flanked on the defensive line by Derek Bryant and Duncan. Bourff and Graves return as starters at outside linebacker, and Ryan French and Gage Brown will start inside. The secondary includes Leavell and Alex Mireles at safety with Dakota Cole and Stephen Helpling as the cornerbacks.
Improvement on the defensive side of the ball was the key to last year’s conference title, according to Wells. And the team’s defensive play likely will determine how long it lasts in the postseason this season.
The schedule is traditionally difficult, and 2013 will be no exception. Elwood opens tonight on the road against Class 2A No. 5 Indianapolis Scecina and hosts fourth-ranked Tipton next week.
Tonight’s opener was supposed to be played at the University of Indianapolis, but the school had a schedule conflict. So it will be played at Indianapolis Howe.
Wells will find out a lot about his football team in the first two weeks, and that’s just the way he wants it.
“The reason we have it that way,” he said of the opening gauntlet, “is that we’ve always tried to play the best competition we could.”