Panthers target postseason run

Bryan Veginski
Washington senior Brock Crothers drops back to make a pass last year during a Mid-Illini Conference football game at Metamora. The Panthers open the 2015 season Friday at Bloomington Central Catholic.

The Washington football team wants a ninth consecutive postseason berth to be just a starting point.

After getting knocked out in the Class 5A first round last year for the first time since 2010, the Panthers aim to be playing in November again.

That was the case each of the previous three seasons when Washington went a combined 7-2, including the third semifinal appearance in program history in 2013.

The Panthers were 7-3 last year and shared second place in the Mid-Illini Conference with Canton with a 5-2 record.

Washington’s lofty goals will be tested early with a daunting schedule.

“We have four really tough weeks,” said 11th year WCHS head coach Darrell Crouch. “It will depend on how we come out of those.”

The Panthers travel to Bloomington Central in Week 1 Friday before the home opener against Morris on Sept. 4.

League play opens with a trip to Canton, followed by a visit from defending M-I champion Metamora on Sept. 18.

That quartet won a combined 31 games, including six in the playoffs. BCC and Morris were quarterfinalists in their respective classes.

With a couple of injury exceptions, Washington is in good health. After a Saturday scrimmage, starters were likely to be named Monday.

“We have a lot of guys competing to be our starters,” Crouch said.

The quarterback spot was a three-way race as of Aug. 18 between Brock Crothers, Garrett Frank and Dylan Simpson, all seniors. Each offers different attributes.

“I’m not afraid to put any of those three in a game,” said Crouch.

Crothers completed 51 percent of his passes for 692 yards as a junior. He tossed seven touchdowns with five interceptions.

The backfield is led by senior tailback Randy Meneweather, who was a first-team All-Mid-Illini pick after rushing for 1,205 yards and 20 TDs.

Seniors Luke Strong and Christian Uphoff also are potential tailbacks as are a pair of sophomores, Josh Shallenberg and Brett Williams.

At fullback, senior Jared Urban and junior Adam Robison are sharing the load.

The offensive line features several fresh faces. “Eight guys can play five spots pretty well,” said Crouch.

Junior Nathan Bienemann will play center or guard.

The tackle group includes seniors Zac Miller and Alex Welch and junior Daniel Witherspoon.

Other guards are: senior Josh Milloy and juniors Justin Hurd and Daniel Baker and sophomore Aaron Boley.

Isaac Teubel, a senior, is the No. 1 tight end. Senior Brevin  Butler and junior Dyllan Foster also are candidates at the position.

Junior Jacob Smith could contribute at fullback, tailback or tight end.

The receiver group includes seniors Kalil Jordan, Austin Ulick and Austin Winship and sophomore Logan Klein, plus Frank, Uphoff and Strong.

Frank topped Washington pass catchers a year ago with 13 receptions for 198 yards.

Teubel and Smith are the Panthers’ projected defensive ends, with Robison and Boley on the interior.

Foster will rotate in at end, junior Will Hammer is a nose/defensive tackle contributor and Matt Ayres will receive some spot play. Junior Cooper Hoffmann is a capable defensive tackle.

Juniors Mason Diederich and Tristan Duro are returning starters at linebacker. Diederich tied for the third-most tackles on the squad with 38.5.

Urban is a weak-side linebacker, with Bienemann playing inside linebacker. Juniors Caleb Miller and Robby Buysse are two other LBs.

Strong and Meneweather are the Washington strong safeties, with Frank lining up as the free safety. Winship and Uphoff are among the cornerbacks.

Uphoff is a coming off a first-team all-league campaign in which he made four interceptions.

Smith is a possible punter and placekicker. Ulick is his competition at punter and emerging freshman Kyle DeBoeuf is focusing exclusively on kicking responsibilities. The long snapper is Teubel.

Two-time first-team All-M-I defender Jake Godinez graduated, as did 2014 second-team honorees Kevin Scott, Tristin Campbell and Gavin Dingledine.

Among the coaching changes was Kyle Wisher moving into a varsity assistant role, taking the retired Rocke Cooper’s spot. Wisher is working with the offensive and defensive lines.

Aaron Davis is the offensive coordinator for the Gary Beard-led sophomores. Nick Beard is a volunteer at that level. Zach Davis will direct the offense under freshman head coach J.J. Guedet.