MARION CENTER — To the Marion Center Stingers, size isn’t everything.
More important is the size of the fight in the dog, as the saying goes.
That’s the approach the undersized Stingers are taking this season as they look to rebound from a frustrating 3-7 season.
Behind a deep senior class of 11, the Stingers hope to use their speed, strength and smarts to negate their lack of size.
“We might not have the size of other teams, but we’re confident to go up against a D-line of 300-pound kids,” two-way lineman Thad Welch said, “and we’ll take them and push them wherever we need to go. We’ve got the strength on the line.”
Of Marion Center’s 37 players, only eight check in at more than 200 pounds, and five of them are freshmen. That leaves the Stingers relatively undersized even by Class A standards.
“You look at us, and you see some of the bigger kids, they’re our younger kids,” coach Dave Malicky said. “They’re not going to play too much varsity football for us early on, that’s for sure. And the older kids that are going to play, they’re not small, but they’re not 220, 230; they’re 180 to 190 pounds. But they’re very strong kids.
“We have some very strong kids in the weight room, and we’ve got to parlay that now onto the football field. We’ve got good leg strength, really good leg strength. We’ll see how that goes.”
Another thing the Stingers have going for them is a vast amount of experience among the returning players. Marion Center returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense.
“The experience is something that can’t be simulated in practice, no matter how many times you do that. Ten games, that makes a big difference,” said Welch, a veteran with two seasons of experience on the offensive and defensive lines.
More so than the statistics they accumulated, the Stingers learned some valuable lessons as the losses mounted, and Malicky hopes they can use those lessons to turn around their fortunes this season.
“We’ve got some kids coming back that played a lot of football last year, they truly did,” Malicky said. “We were in a lot of close games last year that we didn’t win. We very easily could have been a 5-5, 6-4 football team last year. And we weren’t. We ended up 3-7. Hopefully we find ways to win some of those close games this year.
“Just our mental toughness, being able to close out games, being able to close out drives when we get inside the 5-yard line, we’ve got to get that ball in. Those are the lessons I hope we learned last year. I know we did. I’m really looking for that to parlay into some good things this year.”
Traditionally one of the better defensive teams in the Heritage Conference, the Stingers will rely on their speed to swarm the ball.
“We’re strong,” Malicky said. “We’re not going to scare anybody coming off the bus with our size, but we have good team speed. We don’t have any burners, but we’ve got good team speed, and I’m hoping we can get to the football.”
On offense, the Stingers have few proven players, but that hasn’t dampened their enthusiasm.
Gone is one of the leading rushers in school history, Brodey Thompson, and this year the Stingers will relay largely on a running back by committee. Leading the ground attack will be seniors John Lucas and Noah Hoover and junior Colton Fairman.
“We’ve got three nice backs we can get the ball to,” Malicky said.
“I know what’s expected of me and I know I can get the job done with hard work,” Hoover said. “It’s going to be a balance. It’s going to be teamwork more than anything. … It’s going to be a team effort.”
Hoover is the most experienced, having received 49 carries last season, but Malicky expects Fairman to make a name for himself.
“He’s a tough, strong kid that put a tremendous amount of hours in the weight room. I think you’re going to hear a lot about him this year,” Malicky said.
Junior Blake Orr and senior Jake Bothell will see time at quarterback, Malicky said, although Orr seemed to be the favorite to take over the starting job.
The 6-foot, 190-pound Orr got the majority of reps last season and threw for 455 yards and four touchdowns with five interceptions.
“This year is going to be a little easier than last year because everything was new to all of us,” Orr said, “and all the juniors from last year are going to have a lot of experience, so it should be a good year for all of us.”
With Orr behind center, the Stingers have an added dimension on offense because Bothell becomes a downfield threat.
“The nice thing is if we have Blake at QB, Jake is a great receiver,” Malicky said. “You’ve got to try to get your best 11 people on the field. And he’s probably our most experienced kid catching the football out there.”