About a dozen teams attended the Morrison lineman challenge during the summer. For the second straight year, Eastland-Pearl City won it.
The highlight of the Wildcatz’s victory came in the 185-pound bench press competition. EPC’s five-man team piled up 129 reps, far surpassing their winning mark of 83 the previous season.
“We’re a lot stronger than we were last year,” said junior Austin Fischer, a third-year starter who is a right tackle and defensive tackle. “You can see the difference on the field.”
Fischer (5-foot-11, 255 pounds) was one of EPC’s five lifters in the bench-press contest. The others were fellow linemen Boden Brandt (6-3, 265), Tyler Mellnick (6-3, 290) and Tylor Wolf (6-0, 220), plus fullback Ramsay Truckenmiller (5-7, 195).
Though it’s a lineman challenge, Truckenmiller stole the show in the bench press. He led the way for the Wildcatz with 33 reps.
EPC has a whopping 14 returning starters, five of them linemen.
“Everyone’s put in a lot of effort,” said senior Corbin Grossenbacher, a third-year starter who will man guard and defensive tackle spots. “A lot of people have been in the weightroom. A lot of guys have been here almost every night, lifting and running. It’s been an all-around great effort by everyone.”
Hopes are high for the Wildcatz, who are coming off their first one-loss season since 2003 and 12th playoff appearance in 13 seasons.
“Just because we were good last year doesn’t mean we’re going to be great this year,” Grossenbacher said.
“We have to forget about last year,” Fischer said. “People are going to have high expectations for us. We just have to show people what we have.”
Randy Asche is back pushing the buttons entering his seventh season as head coach of the Wildcatz, though he’s trying not to push too hard.
“Coach [Brian] Bull told me that I’m the reason that more guys don’t come out,” said Asche, who’s 45-18 at Eastland. “I thought it was kind of a hurtful thing, and he’s my brother-in-law. He said it’s because I push too hard.
“But, I don’t want to let down a kid who’s willing to do everything that they can possibly do. I don’t want to let them down by not pushing somebody else.”
Returning starting running back Shawn Larak had sports hernia surgery on Aug. 2.
“It’ll be about 6 weeks until we get him back,” Asche said.
Brandt is coming off knee surgery, and is slowly coming around, according to Asche, while senior tight end/linebacker Skylar Paulson is still troubled with a bad left shoulder he injured during basketball season.
Another situation affecting the Wildcatz is the move of 2012 starting quarterback Tim Vanderburgh to Freeport. He threw every pass for Eastland last season.
That likely leaves junior Deven Heeren starting under center, according to Asche. Heeren was in line to start last season before being injured before Game 1.
Wild about winning
• Eastland has been in the playoffs 12 of the last 13 seasons and seven straight seasons. The Wildcatz are coming off their first unbeaten regular season since 2003.