Vinemont was on the brink last season — nearly breaking through in the fourth quarter in multiple games and flirting with a Class 3A postseason appearance.
The Eagles are intrigued to see if those close calls produce more favorable results in 2020.
“We’re moving forward and improving each day,” said Stephen Robinson, who’s entering his fourth season as Vinemont’s coach. “We’re getting stronger in the weight room and more confident as a team year after year. We have a great group of seniors who are eager to turn those close losses into wins for us.”
The Eagles finished 3-7 last season, with five of those losses coming by two scores or less. They missed out on the postseason by just one game, losing out on a tiebreaker scenario.
Vinemont’s offense does have to replace first-team All-State running back and workhorse Dallin Dinkle in the backfield this season, but junior quarterback Colby Miller and senior tailback Brodie Curvin should be up to the challenge.
One challenge Robinson doesn’t want to spoil Vinemont’s progress is the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re following all safety protocols, and I’m just crossing my fingers we get to enjoy the season,” Robinson said. “I can’t imagine being a senior and having to sit back and hope you get to play your final year. I still feel bad for the spring sport athletes. I can sense how excited guys are to be back together. They want to be a part of a routine and a team. They’re willing to do whatever it takes. They’ve had a good summer.”
Miller is among the talented quarterbacks returning across the county and highlights an experienced Vinemont offense.
“We’re expecting big things from Colby,” Robinson said. “He’s made an effort to get stronger and more physical. He has to be a leader for us to be successful, and I have confidence he will.”
Curvin will earn the bulk of the carries after serving as a formidable complement to Dinkle last season, and junior Gabe Friedrich has developed as a top receiving threat.
Vinemont’s offensive line should also be a strength behind the leadership of seniors Isiah Young and Caleb Butler.
“We have a good group of seniors returning on offense, and that’s important,” Robinson said. “Some of these guys have been on the field since they were freshmen. You can’t ask for more experience than that.”
Vinemont’s offense will look to improve on last year’s scoring output of 21.3 points per game.
In order to make the postseason for the first time since 2014, Vinemont’s defense must tighten up the nearly 30 points per game it surrendered last season.
“We have a good nucleus returning on defense as well,” Robinson said. “It should be a more confident and skilled unit. You’ll see the newest faces in the secondary.”
The defensive line should require plenty of attention with Tanner Brown returning at defensive end and Ethan Martin at defensive tackle.
“We’ll count on those two seniors to produce and take the pressure off some of the younger players,” Robinson said. “We need both Tanner and Ethan to have big seasons.”
Penciled in at linebacker are Curvin, Kylan Richards and Carson Greer.
In the secondary, Miller and Jarrett Friedrich will be among the Eagles expected to produce.
Senior Nacho Salgado will handle kicking duties, and Dylan Crider is the punter.
Vinemont switches to Region 6 this season. J.B. Pennington and Holly Pond also transition over as region foes. Rounding out the region are Carbon Hill, Tarrant, Winfield, Susan Moore and Oakman.
Vinemont will play Tarrant for the first time in program history and Oakman for only the third time.
“Our region is challenging,” Robinson said. “We have an October stretch with Winfield, Susan Moore and Oakman in consecutive weeks. That’s going to be the most difficult part of the season.”
Despite the tough schedule, Robinson and the Eagles aren’t shying away from their postseason aspirations.
“Our goal is to be a playoff team. We want to take the next step. We want to be a good fourth quarter team and control our own destiny down the stretch,” Robinson said. “We don’t want to have to worry about tiebreakers or to depend on someone else to lose. Our guys are hungry and want to be playing past October.”