After his Ingram Tom Moore football players had finished running their sprints on Monday morning, coach Duane Kroeker delivered a pep talk to them on the Warriors’ football field.
The Warriors had reached the midway point of their summer workout program, and were four weeks away from starting official practices. Kroeker wanted to make they were prepared for the challenges that await them this fall, but he didn’t have to say much to motivate his players.
“We are not going to sneak up on anyone this year,” he warned his players.
It’s true. Last year, Ingram over achieved. Predicted to finish last in District 13-3A before the 2018 season, the Warriors instead went 8-2 to earn their first playoff berth since 2014.
In the process, they earned respect from their district opponents. But with that respect, comes higher expectations. Ingram is no longer a spunky underdog, but a team expected to make the playoffs. Kroeker knows his players will feel pressure to meet those new expectations.
“I think now when we step out on the field we aren’t going to be overlooked,” Kroeker said. “People are going to prepare for us. I’m not saying that they didn’t prepare for us last year, I’m just saying that we aren’t going to surprise anyone. Most people know about the athletes that we have. We are going to have to go out and take care of our business and do our jobs.”
According to their coach, the Warriors have handled their business during the offseason and summer, giving Ingram fans plenty of reasons to be excited about the upcoming football season. Here are three things to watch for in what could be a special 2019 season for the Warriors.
1. TIM LEATHERMAN’S MATURATION AS INGRAM’S STARTING QUARTERBACK
During the last several months, Leatherman has blossomed into one of the main leaders for the program, setting the tone for the off-season. The rising junior has arrived at the Warriors field house every morning ready to improve, and encourages his teammates to do the same.
He’s not too shabby of a quarterback either. In his first season as a starter, he was the 2018 District Offensive Co-MVP, passing for 1,092 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for 944 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“Tim had a great year last year,” Kroeker said. “Tim is a worker. Not a lot of people see that and realize that outside of our little venue here, but he is an extremely hard worker. …
I think he earned a lot of people’s respect last year as a sophomore.”
Kroeker also observed that Ingram’s opponents now have more film of Leatherman, which they will scour for any potential weaknesses. That’s OK, though, because Leatherman has toiled to elevate his game, working with his coaches to polish his throwing mechanics. Two of his favorite targets — Andrew Burroughs and Kameron Carrington — also return for the 2019 season.
It remains to be seen whether or not Leatherman can eclipse the stats he posted as sophomore. But at the moment, Ingram enjoys a luxury that
not many teams have: a returning dual-threat quarterback who doubles as a leader. That’s good news for Warrior fans.
“He’s talking more on the field as well, not only helping guys, but encouraging them to do their job,” Kroeker said. “ He’s kind of a director, and a coach on the field. I am looking forward to (his season).
2. CAN INGRAM’S OFFENSIVE LINE HAVE ANOTHER DOMINANT SEASON
In Kroeker’s opinion, the offensive line is the most important offensive position group.
The O-line certainly propelled Ingram to victories in 2018, helping the Warriors collect 1,911 rushing yards and average 5.5 yards per carry.
The Warriors may have graduated their starting center (Chris Slaughter) from last year, but they still return several key o-line contributors (Carlos Barron, DJ Chapman, Caleb Carlile, Clay Templeton and Beau Bocock) who spent the offseason growing faster and stronger.
That bodes well for Ingram, considering an experienced offensive line is beneficial for numerous reasons. It allows an offense to be more balanced, opening lanes for running backs and giving the quarterback time to find an open receiver. It also helps the offense control the time of possession.
If Ingram’s offensive line builds on last year’s performance, the Warriors have a good chance of returning to the postseason.
“We got a lot of guys coming back,” Kroeker said. “Hopefully, they will be able to protect and do what they need to do.”
3. WILL YOUNGER PLAYERS STEP UP IN 2019?
So far, Kroeker has been happy with the leadership from his upperclassmen, specifically praising Leatherman, Carrington, Burroughs and Bocock.
Those players, though, were once underclassmen who became leaders only after they gained respect through their play on the field.
Which leads to one looming question entering the 2019 season: Will there be any players in their first year on varsity who will step up and help Ingram win?
If the answer to that question is yes, the Warriors should be in good shape.
“We do have a core group that is pretty committed,” Kroeker said. “They work hard every day. They are the leaders not only verbally but by example, and hopefully we get enough guys who come beside them and we are able to develop that team mentality.”