Back in the fold: Rams getting boost from return of injured starters
LIGONIER — For a team in the midst of a rebuilding process, Ligonier Valley desperately needed seniors Michael Keller and Alan Stouffer to recover from gruesome injuries suffered early last season.
Fortunately for the Rams, Keller and Stouffer apparently possess more intestinal fortitude than most.
Keller, a running back/ cornerback, broke his ankle in Ligonier Valley’s first scrimmage of last season, and Stouffer, a two-way tackle, snapped his tibia in two places in Week 2. Both made remarkable offseason recoveries, and both will platoon as starters for the Rams.
“Having them back is huge,” 11th-year coach Roger Beitel said. “We had Alan starting out at center, but just watching him take reps at tackle in practice on film made us change our minds. He’s just so good we had to move him back out to tackle, where he played last year.
“And Michael has just been phenomenal. He’s run-
ning around and making plays and looking like his
old self again. … It really seems like neither one of them has missed a beat, and that’s huge.”
Offensive success for the Rams will hinge
greatly on the play of gritty sophomore quarterback Collin Smith, but if Beitel intends to keep Smith injury-free, he’ll need Keller and Stouffer, two of the team’s eight seniors, to have healthy and productive seasons.
“We’re going to run him, he’s going to throw, and he’s the focal point of our offense,” Beitel said of Smith, the team’s top returning rusher from last season (500 yards). “He’s the reason we made the changes we’ve made in our offense, as well. But if we can’t keep guys like Michael and Alan healthy, it’s going to be difficult to adapt to the changes.”
Beitel said Smith and Keller will get the lion’s share
of the carries in the Pistol-Wing offense, while players such as sophomore fullback
Garrett Custer and sophomore tailback Alex Marsh will complement them.
Beitel seemed supremely confident in Keller, despite the
fact that his only varsity experience at running back came in the latter stages of a handful of games in the 2012 season.
“In the first scrimmage last year, Keller was as good as any back we saw all season,” Beitel said. “He just flew around. He had three touchdowns (and) 80 yards on only like six carries in the first scrimmage, and then he breaks his ankle making an open-field tackle on the second-to-the-last play of the game.
“It was just a freak thing. His ankle just got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the collision takes place, it bends the wrong way and his ankle breaks. That was really a big shot for us, especially at that point in the season.”
In just his second game as a starter, Stouffer also suffered a grisly injury in the open field when he got clipped from behind in a Week 2 win.
Like Keller, Stouffer worked diligently in rehab to recover before the start of his senior season. For their efforts, both players, along with seniors Ray Marsh and Jordan Jones, were named team captains.
“Getting Alan Stouffer back is a big shot in the arm for us,” Beitel said. “And at this point, we’ve finally got some competition behind guys like Alan who can make him better. We have a lot of bigger, talented kids in our lower grades, but they’re still young and they’re still developing. However, those kids have been able to push the older kids like Alan, and that’s the kind of competition we need to get us where we want to go.”