By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
LAPEL, Ind. —
Football coaches love to talk about starting fresh each year.
They hammer home the message that whatever happened during the previous season — good or bad — is in the past, and that the current team will be judged only by what it does next. It sets the stage for grand speeches about forming identities and forging legacies.
And it’s happening right about now at nearly every high school in Indiana.
But the 2013 Lapel Bulldogs might be taking the concept to the extreme.
Of the 31 players on last year’s roster, 11 graduated. Two others moved away, and four more simply chose not to return.
That left second-year head coach Tim Miller with 14 players remaining in the program following a 2-9 season. And he couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming campaign.
An influx of new talent has swelled the Bulldogs’ roster to 60 players, and nearly 80 percent of them never have played football before at the high school level.
“It’s going to be an interesting year for Lapel,” Miller said.
It starts with the team facing its final season in the rugged Indiana Crossroads Conference. The Bulldogs will compete in 2014 as an independent, freeing themselves from a league dominated by Indianapolis-based private schools.
But while the high level of competition in the ICC might not do much for Lapel’s regular-season record, it can prepare the team well for the rigors of the postseason. One of the Bulldogs’ victories last year came in the sectional opener with a 14-13 overtime decision at South Adams.
It was the capper to a season in which Miller saw genuine improvement each week.
“I know it’s kind of the ultimate in coach-speak, but we really got better every game,” Miller said. “Actually, as a staff, we debated if we should even show the kids the Speedway game from last year simply because it’s a completely different group of kids.”
Lapel opens the regular season on the road Friday against the Sparkplugs, who won last year’s contest 49-2. But the Bulldogs served notice things could be different this season with a strong showing against Hagerstown in last week’s scrimmage.
The Tigers are coming off an impressive 9-1 campaign, but Miller points out they also went through many changes in the offseason. He’s happy with what he saw from his team, but he doesn’t want to make too much of an exhibition performance.
“It’s never as good as it seems, and it’s never as bad as it seems,” he said.
There are a few things Lapel knows it can count on even through this extreme makeover. One is offensive/defensive lineman Brady Miller who earned junior all-state honors in 2012. Other top returners include linebacker/wide receiver Joe Hart and running back/linebacker Palmer Pickett.
But much of the focus this fall is certain to fall on the new face under center.
Junior Brady Cherry — the Herald Bulletin’s reigning Baseball Player of the Year and one of the leading returners for the basketball team — will take over as the Bulldogs’ quarterback. The coaching staff knew he had a strong arm, but they’ve also been impressed by his ability to read defenses as well as his footwork and mechanics.
“He’s the real deal,” Miller said, adding he believes Cherry can be as much a threat with his legs as he will be with his arm.
The new quarterback already has left a mark on the program, serving as the chief hallway recruiter for many of the other new faces.
“It’s kind of a snowball effect,” Miller said. “Kid A and Kid B come out, and then everybody else starts to follow. We’re going to be very young, we’re going to be very inexperienced and we’re going to have very high expectations.”