Indiana building for future around young players

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Saturday, August 17, 2019 | 11:10 AM


Most would have forgiven Brandon Overdorff if his team didn’t make much noise last year. He took over the program just before the summer with barely enough time to learn all of his players’ names, let alone implement a system into a one-win team the year before.

But a reinvigorated senior squad, led by three-year starting quarterback Luke Thomas and many seniors who hadn’t played the year before surpassed expectations.

The team found itself down 7-0 in the fourth quarter against Greensburg Salem the last week of its season in a bid to make the playoffs. Indiana lost 17-0. But the impact of such a season can’t be denied.

“We knew we had a quarterback and a lot of kids played that didn’t play the year before,” Overdorff said. “They filled a lot of holes because they were physically mature. Definitely, there was a lot of positives. There was excitement around the program, and we took some steps in the right direction. Hopefully, we continue to move in that direction.”

The Little Indians will be taking different steps this year — ones that point toward experience for the future. The team returns three starters on defense and two on offense. But does seeing its program compete for an unlikely postseason berth last season translate to believing for a group, many of whom saw junior varsity snaps last year?

“We have a tremendous amount of youth that’s going to have to step in and play,” Overdorff said. “That’s a challenge. We should have some confidence and belief, but they’re also not quite physically mature enough compete in a league we do week in and week out.”

There are a handful of players, however, who fit that mold. Senior slot back Malik Turner is an all-conference selection who will see the ball early and often. He thinks the success last season can be a mental springboard.

“It really wasn’t that we didn’t expect it,” Turner said. “But it really opened our eyes to try to work hard and improve for this year. … Seeing from last year how good we did, I think (the younger players) will be more inspired to want to win and do their thing.”

Still, there’s plenty of senior leadership, according to Turner. Aside from himself, he highlighted RB/MLB Justin Raible, WR/CB Brayden Hodak, WR/CB Ryan Putt and OL/DL Ty Olliver.

“There’s a good bit of sophomores that are juniors now coming up and really stepping up,” Turner said. “I think that even though they weren’t the starting 11 on the field (last year), I think they’ll still contribute and put forth a lot of effort.”

The biggest question will be replacing Thomas. According to Overdorff, senior Caleb White, who was injured last year, looks to be the frontrunner. Junior A.J. Nickas and sophomore Fox Van Leer are also in the mix.

“We’ll sort it out when we get some live snaps and scrimmages,” he said. “It’s a tight competition.”

One advantage is the flex-bone offense Overdorff implemented last year, which might be better suited for one of the current contenders for the job rather than Thomas, who was more of a traditional pocket passer.

“I think it’ll fit us a little better this year,” Overdorff said. “We threw a lot last year because we had Luke. That’s tough to replace. Time will tell, but you’d still like to have a three-year starting senior quarterback coming back.”

Overdorff likes his backfield options with Turner at slot back and Raible, who saw snaps at fullback last year and Overdorff called “a good leader and football player.” Turner is likely to be the feature ball carrier of the group.

“He’s probably our best football player both sides of the football,” said Overdorff of Turner, who starts at outside linebacker. “Real tough kid, great athlete, very strong. Just a quality kid that does everything right within our program. One of those culture guys that sets the tone.”

Turner has been visiting colleges, including St. Francis (Pa.) and Youngstown State, but has yet to make a decision.

“My thinking going into this year was mostly to be focused up,” Turner said. “Even though we have all these new players coming in, that’s just the mindset I’ve had since I was young and the mindset I’m going to keep.”

A mostly inexperienced line will be led by junior OL/DL Matt Nelson and Oliver. Nelson sat out last year with non-football injury. Oliver will look to pick up where he left off.

“He’s an explosive kid,” the coach said. “Maybe a little undersized but quick and playing at a different level than he has in the past this summer with a little more commitment. He’s doing the right things.”

The schedule will again be tough in Class 4A but is likely to feature a handful of contests where the Indians can compete. Matchups with powerhouses such as Class 5A McKeesport and perennial WPIAL contender Thomas Jefferson offer opportunities to learn from programs that are where Indiana would like to be.

“It’s just patience,” Overdorff said. “You spend a whole lot of time trying to develop young kids in your system. It’s about full speed reps and getting them to play at that level. Simulate that as well as you can, that’s all you can do”

Schedule

Coach: Brandon Overdorff

2018 record: 3-7, 3-4

All-time record: 441-411-36

Date, Opponent, Time

8.23, at Armstrong, 7

8.30, at West Mifflin*, 7:30

9.6, Ringgold*, 7

9.13, Thomas Jefferson*, 7

9.20, at Belle Vernon*, 7

9.27, Trinity*, 7

10.5, at McKeesport, 1

10.11, Blackhawk, 7

10.18, Laurel Highlands*, 7

10.25, at Greensburg Salem*, 7

*Class 4A Big 8 Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Luke Thomas*

61-130, 880 yards, 8 TDs

Rushing: Jeremy Thomas*

63-369 yards

Receiving: Malik Turner

21-434 yards, 5 TDs

*Graduated

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