By Marty Gordon
With seven starters returning on offense and eight returning on defense for this year’s football team, Head Coach Jordan Stewart and his Eastern Montgomery Mustangs are optimistic they can improve on last season’s 2-9 record and last-place finish in the Pioneer District.
Stewart came back to his alma mater with hopes of building a winning tradition, but through his first six seasons the Mustangs have struggled with a 12-50 record.
COVID’s wiping out the fall season left the team still wondering what this season could bring.
Eastern Montgomery is no different from other area schools in that the pandemic has changed everything about high school football. Stewart said the main way it has affected his team is the shutdown of school facilities and the inability to do anything over the summer.
“Also, students being remote during the school year has made it hard to keep up with grades and build better relationships with certain players,” the head coach said. The extended time off has also affected a strength program Stewart has built from the ground up. “Our lifting numbers have dropped since the fall of last year. The inability to be in the weight room has put us behind the 8-ball,” Stewart said.
He will also have to replace All-county/All-city performer Dylan Owens, who rushed 125 times in 2019 for 890 yards with nine touchdowns. Also gone is all- Pioneer District defensive and offensive lineman 6-4, 220-lb. Cole Shepherd, who had 55 solo tackles last season with two sacks and 19 tackles for loss.
But Eastern Montgomery returns three-year starters Shawn Benjamin (5-11, 294 lbs.) and Brandon Work (5-5, 202 lbs.). Eight seniors make up a squad of 27 players that also includes seven 10th graders and three ninth graders. Stewart hopes some of the youngsters grow up quicker than expected.
One or two injuries with a small squad and a condensed schedule, according to Stewart, could make or break the season. “A guy being out one or two weeks. Well, there went one-third of the season,” he said.
One of the biggest factors on Eastern Montgomery’s side is the return of 6-2, 167-lb. quarterback/safety Adam Bahnken. He was second on the team in total tackles with 66.5.
“We are returning several players on both sides of the ball. However, we have some key positions to fill, and without any scrimmages and with shortened pre-season there are a lot of question marks rolling into week one,” Stewart said. “We will have to evaluate guys during regular-season games versus a scrimmage. I think conditioning and cold weather are going to affect game outcomes. One or two extra turnovers can swing a ball game in a hurry,” the head Mustang said.
The spring squad will have seven players over 200 pounds, three over 300 pounds, including 6-1, 335-lb. offensive lineman Brandon Edwards and Noah Vishneski (6-1, 357), both seniors.
One of the biggest contributors could come thanks to the girls’ soccer team as sophomore Lilly Underwood will step up to take the role of kicker this season. She was the Pioneer Player of the Year for girls’ soccer this past spring when the Lady Mustangs put together the best season in the program’s history.
“She has done very well in preseason and is a good kicker,” Stewart said.
Eastern Montgomery is slated to open the season on February 22 at home versus Covington.