Column: Line Drives — No need to panic for JCHS football

[This is my column in the Sept. 18 issue of The Commercial Review.]

“The windshield is bigger than the rearview for a reason.”

That’s what Tim Millspaugh and his Jay County High School football team are telling themselves four games into a season that, so far, hasn’t gone their way.

And that’s exactly the way they should look at it.

Don’t worry about what is in the past. Focus on what’s ahead.

Through four weeks last year, Jay County was 3-1 and coming off a game against Anderson Prep in which it scored a school-record 69 points. The Patriots had amassed 1,488 yards of total offense in those four games, and outscored their opponents 151-83.

This season, the Patriots have gained less than half (736) of what they had at this point last year and have given up 99 more points than they’ve scored (39 points for, 138 points against).

It’s easy to see the 2014 squad is much different than it was a year ago, and it starts with the two biggest factors to its 7-4 season in 2013.

J.D. Mangas, who rushed for 1,865 yards last year, is playing wide receiver at Taylor University. Eric Hemmelgarn, the dominating force on the defensive line with 29 tackles for loss, has moved on to the University of Saint Francis.

Mangas had the speed to run the football, and Hemmelgarn had the power to cause fits for opposing offenses at the line of scrimmage.

Jay County doesn’t have the same personnel this year, so the odds were stacked against it to live up to — or improve on — what was done last season.

Despite not meeting those expectations so far, Millspaugh and the Patriots aren’t going to let what happened the first four weeks dictate the outcome of the remaining five-plus weeks.

“We had a closed-door meeting (Monday) where the kids were able to ask questions and we were able to ask questions,” Millspaugh said at practice on Wednesday. “They were able to ask questions about us (the coaching staff) and of their teammates. It wasn’t something that was meant to be destructive, it was meant to be constructive to make sure we’re all on the same page.

“I felt like when we left that meeting that we made tremendous strides, not only to be able to put that behind us, but to be able to understand the big picture of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Senior captain Joey Link said the meeting was helpful in being able to forget about what has led to the Patriots’ 1-3 record.

“I think that as a team we learned what to do moving forward this season,” he said. “We knew that we had some things we had to work on going into that meeting, and we talked as a team about what we think needs to change to help us be successful.

“Not focusing on the past couple games and focusing on getting better has brought us closer as a team even more. We just have to keep working hard.”

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about Indiana high school sports, it is that aside from competing for conference championships, the regular season doesn’t have much value. What matters most is being the best team possible when the postseason tournaments roll around.

A few prime examples are the 2013 South Adams football and Jay County girls soccer teams.

The Starfires entered the tournament 2-7 and went on to win its first sectional in nearly two decades.

Jay County’s girls soccer team needed eight games to pick up its first victory and finished the regular season with a 4-6-5 record. The Patriot girls then shut out Delta and sectional-favorite Yorktown to win the program’s first sectional title.

While the scoreboard hasn’t lit up in favor of Jay County this year, the season is not completely lost.

There is plenty of time left for the Patriots to find their identity, figure things out on both sides of the ball, turn the page and build momentum for the postseason.

The record may suggest otherwise, but it’s not time to panic just yet.

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