Quarterbacks still battling for opening-day start
The Eudora High School football team knows the time for talking is over and game time is the only thing that matters as it opens the season at 7 p.m. Friday evening with a road contest at Osawatomie.
Although the game time and place may be set in stone, the one thing that has not been for the Cardinals is who will line up behind center to take the snaps. As of Saturday morning's preseason scrimmage, two players, Ben Katzenmeier and Matthew Abel, were still in a battle as the top quarterback.
"We're still searching," said Eudora football coach Gregg Webb. "Both of them are good players and we might be doing them a disservice by even splitting it up, but they are both capable and both have positives that we are trying to exploit."
As for the positives each player possesses, both seem to bring something different to the table.
"Matthew is a good athlete," Webb said. "He runs the ball really well, but he's new to the position. He doesn't know all of our plays yet."
It is Abel's speed and elusiveness that make him such an offensive threat and such an appealing option behind center.
Last season, he caught 47 passes for 818 yards. He racked 13 touchdowns, was a game-breaker as a punt and kick returner and led the team with three interceptions.
The Cardinals are hoping that will translate well to the quarterback position.
"We've run him at wide out enough and that is his normal position," Webb said. "We have given him some reps at QB, but he's still not comfortable there.
"On the flipside, he makes something out of nothing and it makes us look pretty good. He ad-libs and we're wondering how you curse a kid for scoring when he ran the play wrong."
As for Katzenmeier, it's his familiarity with the system and his more natural throwing skills that makes him a strong candidate. He spent last season as the back-up quarterback and started for the junior varsity squad.
"Ben throws the ball really well," Webb said. "He's a good athlete, he runs and he is tough. We should probably make him our QB and put Matthew back out there, but it is Matthew's positives that are the reason we are sticking him back there."
According to Katzenmeier, both seem to be handling the situation well. He admits that he trusts the decision of the coach when it comes down to whom ultimately takes over the position.
"We haven't really had any problems with it because if coach puts the other one in, it is for a good reason," Katzenmeier said. "Coach Webb knows what he is talking about. We are both better suited for different situations."
Webb said there may be no immediate solution to the problem, and said he expects both quarterbacks to take snaps in Friday's game.
Though the quarterback situation could remain confusing, the team took a step toward clearing other areas up with Saturday's 90-minute scrimmage. Playing in front of fans for the first time this season -- about 100 parents and fans showed up to cheer -- the Cardinals began to shape into game form.
There were plenty of things both good and bad to take out of the experience, Webb said.
"We didn't get anybody hurt," he said. "It went pretty well. Our defense is good. I like them and they play so darn hard. They've reached just such a reputation now over the years of great, great effort and great toughness. They don't want to be scored on and they take every possession personal at every position."
The defensive-minded Cardinals are looking to capitalize this season with a much more complex style of defense. Eudora will throw in some different looks on defensive that will likely cause some problems for opposing teams.
"What we've done this year is put in so many is put in so many wrinkles to our defense," Webb said. "That's going to be encouraging to watch in a game just to see how devastating we can be. The effort is the key."
On the offensive side, the Cardinals are hoping to have starting right tackle Mike Sledd back in time for the opener. Sledd has been absent from practice after a recent death in his family.
"Offensively, we are missing a big key and that's our big right tackle Mike Sledd," Webb said. "His grandfather passed away. He makes a big difference for us."
Aside from missing Sledd, however, the Cardinals do return Abel, who should provide a spark wherever he lines up, as well as leading rusher Travis Clarke to the offensive scheme. Clarke looked sharp in the preseason scrimmage and will likely have to be this season if he is to repeat his 1,671-yard performance on 300 carries with 20 touchdowns from a season ago.
"I still like our skill and I like the potential of our offensive line," Webb said. "Clarke is good. Matthew is good. The kids that we know that are going to play are going to play and the kids we have question marks about, we are still working on them."
As for the opener, Eudora is looking for a repeat of last year's crushing 42-0 win over Osawatomie. The Cardinals, however, are just anxious to get the season started and getting a game under their belts.
"That first one, you've always got apprehension about because you are not exactly sure who you are going to play," Webb said. "You are not exactly sure how good they are. That first one is just to kind of get it under your belt.
"Our kids are ready to play somebody."