Coming off back-to-back playoff appearances (both in losing seasons) Mitchell figures it's their season to get more.
By JAMAL THALJI
Published September 3, 2004
TRINITY - Every year, the mantra is the same.
District title. Playoffs. Mitchell's goals never waver.
"We've worked hard in the offseason, it's our fifth year, it's time," said coach Scott Schmitz said. "But I said the same thing last year."
But never in the program's four varsity seasons have the Mustangs been better positioned to live up to that mantra.
This is the deepest, most talented, most skilled, best conditioned and most experienced Mitchell squad in Schmitz's tenure.
It also has the best timing.
For the first time in four years, arch-rival and two-time district champion Land O'Lakes is without quarterback Drew Weatherford. River Ridge and Ridgewood are hunkered down in rebuilding mode.
And Schmitz, after consecutive playoff appearances despite sub-.500 seasons, is tired: of excuses, of being district runner-up, of waiting for next season.
"We're deeper than we've ever been. We have a number of returning starters. We have a large senior class," he said. "The ingredients are there. We've just got to get the job done."
Defensive end/fullback Spencer Brown said the maturing program is at a pivotal juncture.
"Right now it's time to start a tradition," he said, "we need to start it now or it'll never start. We need to start winning now."
In the spring Chris Watts was displaced by junior varsity quarterback Alex Wilson. But that inspired Watts to fight for his job, and a strong offseason might put the veteran back under center again. Their top targets will be wideouts Jon Saxer and Anthony Napolitano.
Behind the quarterback will be one of the county's top starting backfields. Halfback D.J. Crosby and wingback James "J.J." Campbell give Mitchell speed on the outside. Brown isn't too far behind at fullback, and a load to bring down.
Crosby is back after missing last season with a shoulder injury, Campbell missed the spring after knee surgery and Brown will settle on one offensive position after years of switching. "We feel like we have three kids back there who are legitimate threats," Schmitz said.
Three-year starter Mike Toncich is back at strongside guard, Jeremy Lane is back at weakside tackle and Casey Smith is at strong tackle full-time.
Schmitz will take back offensive coordinator duties this season, altering his Wing-T to get Crosby and Campbell outside and in space more often.
The defense is back to a 5-3, anchored by Brown, moved from linebacker to end. The Mustangs' best conditioned player will be counted on to revive last season's moribund pass rush. Smith moves from tackle to nose and Toncich will contribute, too.
Linebacker is the Mustangs' deepest position. A good offseason will see Troy Adams start again at inside linebacker. Napolitano will anchor one of the outside 'backer spots. Crosby and Campbell return at cornerback and Nick Dreger is at safety.
On special teams, kicker Mario Formoso must replace the dependable and departed Ryan Villiard.
Five of Mitchell's first six games are on the road, but district games against Land O'Lakes (Oct. 15) and River Ridge (Oct. 29) are at home. Circumstances could favor the Mustangs, if they seize the moment.
"I hope so," Schmitz said. "This is a talented group of kids and we are there. I think they believe they're there. There isn't anybody on our schedule that we can't beat and I truly mean that.