The Lincoln Railer football team will host its annual "Meet the
Railers" event tonight at 7. Fans attending the game are asked to
bring a water or Gatorade donation as their ticket for the event.
Andy McDonald will begin his second year as the head coach of the
Railer program. After finishing his first season with a record of
2-7, McDonald and the Railers will look to take a step forward this
season, while also establishing a foundation for the future with
what is expected be a youthful team with several first-time starters
in key positions.
Out with the old, in with the new
Absent from this season's roster are program stalwarts such as
quarterback James Leisinger, fullback-linebacker Andy Krusz, lineman
Sawyer Conrady, halfback-linebacker Zach Schleder, wingback-safety
Moses Rogers, wingback Garrett Cooper and wide receiver-cornerback
Logan Armbruster, all of whom graduated from LCHS in May.
That means a new quarterback, several new ball carriers and
receivers, and at least one big hole to fill on the offensive line.
Replacing Leisinger -- a three-year starter behind center -- is
junior Austin Krusz.
McDonald summarized Krusz's potential by saying that what he may
lack in experience, he makes up for in leadership and raw
"Austin Krusz is going to be the starting quarterback. He has
been extremely committed over the offseason, from the spring into
summer," said McDonald. "He's really stepped up and made himself
into a leader. He's realized he can't just go through the motions,
he has to be a leader for the guys on the field. He is definitely
making an effort to do that. And the guys have been receptive.
"He's also in the top two or three of the most athletic kids we
have on the team. We'll have the ball in his hands a lot, between
throwing it or handing it off and running it. We'll rely on him
quite a bit."
McDonald also pointed to junior Anthony Cannon and senior Conner
Schmidt as being relied upon to make plays in the backfield for the
Railers. Cannon -- aptly named "Tank" for his sturdy build and
aggressive style of running -- will assume Krusz's role as the
fullback. McDonald also praised Schmidt's toughness.
"He'll find holes, knock some guys over and finish runs hard,"
McDonald said of Schmidt. "That's what we like about him."
On the outside, fans can expect Krusz's top target at receiver to
be Dane Eimer, who has been a prominent player on Lincoln's defense
for the last two years in the secondary.
McDonald said Eimer, a senior and perhaps the team's most vocal
leader, has grown as an offensive threat in the offseason, capable
of providing some explosive plays when needed.
"He'll be counted on. He's had a great summer and has really
stepped up his offensive game," McDonald said of Eimer. "We knew he
would do the job defensively. He's been doing that for a few years.
Now he's really stepped up into a leadership role.
"That's the thing about Dane: He wants to be on the field. We'd
have to drag him off the field."
In McDonald's eyes, the Railers' biggest strength this season
will be in the trenches, where they return four sizable, talented
and experienced lineman from a season ago in seniors Austin Brummett,
Riley Reid, Daniel Bacon and Brandon Aper. McDonald said the fifth
spot on the line was still in a competition phase, with just over a
week until the season-opener against Jacksonville.
"We've got beef up there that we don't typically have," said
McDonald of the lineman. "They'll have to get their pads down and
move the line of scrimmage. That'll be a strength we'll have,
running between the tackles."
Ground and pound
As has been the case in recent years, fans should expect Lincoln
to be a predominantly run-oriented offense. The strategy for the
Railers will be to sustain long, lengthy drives that keep the ball
in their possession while keeping the opposition's offense off the
While explosive plays may be infrequent due to a lack of team
speed that McDonald freely admits to, if the Railers can capitalize
on their strength at the line of scrimmage and the toughness of
runners like Cannon, Krusz and Schmidt, then the powerful offense
could potentially wear opposing defenses down and grind out
That's the hope of the coaching staff, it appears.
"We will play to our strengths," McDonald explained. "It wouldn't
make any sense with our personnel, with our numbers, to speed the
game up. We need to control the ball, slow the game down and make
the most of every play we've got and slow the game down.
"We won't have the speed of most of the teams in our conference.
We just won't match up there. But this year, we will match up on the
offensive line. I think we're going to have to pound people inside,
maybe get some sweeps outside to keep them honest."
"And Austin has really developed in the last year. We're excited
to see what he can do (in the passing game). He's developed his
skills tremendously by working on it all summer. He has potential
[to top of second column]
One key to the Railer game plan will be limiting turnovers,
specifically fumbles. On more than one occasion last season, a
critical fumble killed a promising offensive drive. In close games,
those forfeited possessions proved costly: Of Lincoln's seven losses
last season, three were by 10 points or less.
Holding on to the football has been a focus in the preseason thus
"We've got to (do) a better job of it," said McDonald. "We cannot
put the ball on the ground. We've even purchased some devices and
things that we use in practice to keep that in line. We expect to
see a big improvement on that. It's not an option to put the ball on
The numbers game
If the Railers have a glaring weakness on their roster, it's in
sheer size of the program.
Lincoln is the third-smallest school in total enrollment in the
Central State Eight, but just focusing on enrollment can be
deceiving. The two smaller schools in the conference are Springfield
Sacred Heart-Griffin, a private school with a rich football
tradition, and Rochester, which has won consecutive state
championships at the Class 4A level.
While the conference's bigger schools may have 100 or more
football players, the entire football program at LCHS has about 50
players, and this season, almost half of that number is the freshman
While only 11 players can play in a varsity game at any given
time, McDonald admitted that the Railers will be at a considerable
disadvantage at times this season because of problems created by the
lack of numbers.
"Obviously when you have more bodies out here, first of all,
you're going to have more competition for positions," said McDonald.
"There's strength in numbers. Especially in a game situation.
"Ideally, you'd have one offensive side of the ball and one
defensive side of the ball. Not just for the physicality of it, but
just to have a little bit of rest so they can be fresher on the
field. Not only physically but mentally, to get a little a mental
rest over the course of a game."
The lack of depth doesn't just on game days either. It also hurts
on a daily basis, in practice.
"Against bigger schools, they will have guys that all they do is
offense or defense. So that's all they have to learn," said
McDonald. "Many of our guys are doing double duty mentally,
physically and their reps in practice. They have to be
well-conditioned, stay sharp and focused at all times. We emphasize
to them frequently, they can't get tired and drop off. It's easy to
get tired, feel weak and then lose focus."
Indeed, McDonald said he expects at least six or seven Railers to
play offense and defense throughout the season, or at least until
some of the inexperienced Railers can prove they will be able to
compete at the varsity level.
"We've been like that for years, where more than most teams, we
have guys playing both sides of the ball, and this year will
probably be even more so," the coach said. "We're going to have,
just about, the same guys on offense and the same guys on defense.
"It's going to come down to some sophomores getting on the field
to give our older guys a rest."
McDonald evaluating effort, not statistics
While some fans are hungry for five wins and the prospects of a
potential playoff berth, McDonald maintained a philosophy that he
expressed last season.
While wins are obviously of great importance to everyone
surrounding the program, as a coach of young men, his primary focus
will be on less tangible things. The coach and teacher inside of
McDonald is hoping to teach lifelong lessons that go beyond the
McDonald is focused on things like effort, commitment and
persistence, as opposed to statistics, style or the hype of a
potential playoff birth.
"We've not set any tangible goals with a lot of young guys. To
me, it would be a shot in the dark to set a number of wins or yards
per game or things like that," said McDonald. "We can guess at it.
"But, to me, I think the more important thing is, the more
meaningful goal, is to get 100 percent effort and commitment on
every play. We simply have to be as aggressive or more aggressive
than the teams we match up against. And, we can never quit. We can't
let down, no matter what. And lastly, play as a team as we try to
play to the best of our ability."
[By JUSTIN TIERNEY]