Wapello isn’t unlike any other football team in the state in hoping for good health. However, good health for their starters may not be as important to any team as it is the Indians, who have only six seniors on their 2019 roster.
“That’s what you battle in small schools is your depth,” coach Todd Parsons said. “We can prepare the young kids the best we can to get them ready because, with only six seniors out (for the team), we’re going to be relying on a lot of underclassmen.
“Our overall depth at every position is a huge concern for us.”
Parsons won’t lose sleep over his first unit.
Wapello returns 13 letterwinners and 10 starters on his 37-player roster. The Indians return five starters at the skill positions, with the most notable being senior Ricky Pforts, who was voted third-team all-state at running back last season.
Pforts rushed for 1,380 yards and 16 touchdowns on 7.3 yards per carry to lead Wapello to a 5-4 record.
“Ricky is going to carry a heavy load for us offensively,” Parsons said. “He’s extremely talented; our offense is going to run through him. He’s a great leader for our program.”
Pforts’ presence will also help the Indians break in a new quarterback, Tade Parson, son of Todd Parsons.
Outgoing quarterback Noah Holland passed for 812 yards on 139 passing attempts last season, and Todd Parsons anticipates Pforts will help open up the passing game for Tade, who is more of a passer than a runner.
Tade will have plenty of weapons on the outside with seniors Mitchell Moore and Daniel Meeker along with junior Griffin Mears. Senior Tyler Cooley will move from offensive line back to his natural position at wide receiver, and junior Caden Thomas returns at tight end, where he led the Indians with 282 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season.
“That is a luxury,” Parsons said. “The installs have been fast and easy since we have a lot of kids returning at those positions.”
The biggest concern, just like last year, is the Indians’ offensive line.
They return three starters in juniors Rhett Smith and Brantly Palmer as well as sophomore Owen Housman. Still, two spots are up for grabs.
“It’s still a huge concern for me right now,” Parsons said. “Even though we have three starters back, moving Cooley back to receiver opened up another spot we had to fill. We’re still searching, trying to find the right fit and that scares the heck out of me.”
Defensively, the Indians are stocked with returning talent at all three levels. Pforts leads that group. He recorded 74.5 tackles and 50 solo tackles from his middle linebacker spot last season, and he will be flanked by Thomas and Moore at outside linebacker.
Smith and Cooley make up Wapello’s defensive ends, while Meeker — a first-team all-district selection at cornerback last year — will lead the secondary and newcomer Maddox Griffin, a sophomore, will be in the mix.
“Our first group, we’re pretty excited about,” Parsons said. “It’s can we stay healthy? That’s the bottom line.”
The Indians have the talent on paper to put together a fourth consecutive winning season if they stay healthy. However, all Parsons is focused on is making sure his team improves each week.
A little injury luck wouldn’t hurt, either.
“We’re going day-by-day, just trying to get better every day and improve every Friday,” Parsons said. “You have to have a little luck along the way with staying away from injuries.
“If we focus on ourselves, hopefully, everything will play out well for us.”