FALL SPORTS PREVIEW: Van Buren seeking return trip to state playoffsWarriors made first-ever postseason trip in ‘13 and have 14 seniors this year
The Warriors enter the 2014 season with a clear-cut task: try to one-up what was quite possibly the greatest season in Van Buren High School football history.
The 2013 campaign began with a road victory at Cardinal, and from there the success began to snowball. A homecoming win over New London and a victory over WACO (Van Buren hadn’t defeated WACO in more than 40 years) helped guide the Warriors to a 5-4 record and the first state playoff berth in school history. Awaiting them in the postseason was powerhouse B-G-M (Brooklyn), who would rudely crush Van Buren 83-6 to end its year.
The Warriors begin 2014 with a fresh slate, but with many familiar faces. Senior Garrett Saunders returns as one of the best two-way players in Class A football. Saunders threw for 974 yards, ran for 605 yards and scored eight combined touchdowns as quarterback while also performing as Van Buren’s best defender. He led the team in tackles (79) and interceptions (6) from the safety position.
“Garrett’s very comfortable running the offense, and he’ll have plenty of weapons to work with,” Van Buren coach Mike Hurley said.
Returning at receiver is senior Brandon Plecker, who caught 25 passes and two touchdowns last year. Seniors Brayden Starnes and Noah Whitten will see time at receiver, along with newcomer Will Mertens. Just a junior, Mertens played on the basketball and baseball teams with Saunders, so expect the chemistry between them (and the entire receiving core) to be extremely strong. Mertens is also the only receiver who breaks the 6-foot barrier, meaning his height could come into play as well.
Taking over for Aaron Clemens at running back is senior Vaughn Helling. As a junior, Helling scooted for 549 yards on the ground, including 136 on homecoming night alone. Even though Van Buren’s offensive line has lost some size with the Stovall twins graduating, expect the running game to still be effective. Justin Haggins (270 pounds) will anchor the line with Sam Dickinson, Luke Elfers and Gabe Tedrow.
Defensively, the Warriors will sport one of the best defensive back groups in Class A District 6. Starnes will join Saunders at safety, while Plecker and Wyatt Cole will man the corner spots. Speed will be a luxury for a secondary that will have to be very active in all phases of defense.
Hunter Coffman is taking over All-District Casey Jones’s vacant linebacker spot, while Dakota LaRue will likely lead the defensive line.
Van Buren’s schedule won’t do them any favors, as the Warriors will have to play five playoff teams from 2013 in their first five weeks. Lynnville-Sully, Montezuma, Lone Tree, WACO and Pekin must be vanquished before Van Buren’s schedule softens up with Danville.
2014 Van Buren Football: Varsity Schedule
8/29 @ Lynnville-Sully
9/05 vs. Montezuma
9/12 vs. Lone Tree
9/19 @ WACO
9/26 vs. Pekin
10/03 @ Danville
10/10 vs. New London
10/17 vs. Winfield-Mt. Union
10/24 @ Cardinal
Class A District 6: 2013 Records
Team, Conference Record, Overall Record
Pekin* 6-1 9-3
Lone Tree* 5-2 6-4
WACO* 5-2 5-5
Van Buren* 4-3 5-5
Winfield-Mt. Union 2-5 3-6
Danville 1-6 2-7
New London 1-6 2-7
Cardinal 0-6 1-8
* – Playoff Qualifier
** – Van Buren was in Class A District 5 last season, which featured Lisbon and Highland. Cardinal and Pekin are new district opponents for the Warriors.
Head Coach: Mike Hurley, 2nd season
Key Returnees: QB Garrett Saunders (Sr.), RB Vaughn Helling (Sr.), WR Brandon Plecker (Sr.), LB Hunter Coffman (Sr.), DL Dakota LaRue (Sr.)