By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Quincy High School football coach Rick Little deviated from the one-game-at-a-time coaching cliche at the end of his team's first practice.
With the Blue Devils huddled around their coach, Little let them know exactly what he thought they were capable of achieving in the long term.
"Guys, this is a playoff football team. I truly believe that," Little told his players on Aug. 14.
The Blue Devils, who open the season 7 p.m. Friday at United Township, believe the same thing.
"The ceiling is high," senior running back Jordan Osborne said.
Missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons only fuels the motivation.
"It hurts," Osborne said of the ending to the past two seasons. "As a senior, you have to make sure your senior season goes out with a bang. You have to go to the playoffs and at least make a stand and leave your footprint there to know that you've been there."
Osborne mentioned a high ceiling, which was also present for the 2012 squad. Yet, a failure to win close games resulted in QHS failing to reach that ceiling. The Blue Devils went 4-5, with four of the five losses coming by eight points or less. Included in that was a 36-28 loss to Hannibal in Week 2. QHS led that contest 28-6 at halftime.
"We have to finish and start the same," senior fullback Malique Robbins said. "You come into the game thinking you need to beat this team. Finish with that same attitude."
The Blue Devils will build their Wing-T offense around Robbins. He'll be in his third season as a starter and gained 1,050 yards on 157 carries last season. Osborne is back for his second season at halfback. He gained 529 yards on 79 carries last season, with 351 of those yards coming in the final three weeks. Little expects Osborne to become a steadier contributor this season, which would help alleviate some of the attention Robbins receives from opposing defenses.
Junior Bryce Unmisig steps into the wingback position. Also new to the starting backfield is junior quarterback George Crickard IV, who does have a little varsity experience under his belt.
"We're probably as athletic, collectively, as we've been in a while," Little said of his backfield.
The bigger question probably comes with the offensive line, which lost three starters off the unit that helped pave the way for QHS to gain 2,519 rushing yards last season. That total was the highest regular-season mark of any team in the Western Big Six Conference.
"I like the type of guys we have up front," Little said. "They're going to have a huge responsibility, but they've got good backs running behind them. We want to open up huge holes every play, but clearly with the backs we got, you have to get off the ball and stay on your block, but fortunately for us, you don't have to stay on it that long, because we have guys who can wiggle a little bit."
There is some experience returning up front, with junior tight end Seth Holtschlag and senior linemen Jacob Calvin and Quentin Lefever back in the fold. They'll be joined on the line by seniors Jacob Kendall and junior Tyler Paul, both of whom received some playing time last season and should move into starting roles. Sophomores Blayne Schlueter and Devin Prost are vying for the final spot on the line.
"People might not know as much about our line this year, but we'll be solid," Lefever said.
Defensively, QHS should receive a boost from the addition of middle linebacker Malik Bondon, a transfer from Sun Prairie (Wis.) High School who has a scholarship offer from Division I FCS North Dakota. He'll be joined in the linebacking corps by senior River Bugh, an All-WB6 selection. Holtschlag also will lend support at linebacker after spending last season on the defensive line.
The defensive line was anchored in 2012 by then-senior Clay Finklea, and Little looks toward senior Cooper Bowles to be that anchor this season.
The secondary features returning starters Parker Schutte and Matt Bilgri at cornerbacks, with Unmisig and Brady Brockmiller pushing them for playing time. Robbins and Osborne will be looked at to also be playmakers at safety.
"We have a lot of depth (on defense), which is really important right now," Robbins said.
If defense is marked by depth, this year's offense might be best labeled as explosive.
Little said this backfield reminds him of his 2009 squad, a team where "every guy could bust one." That 2009 team made the playoffs. Maybe it's no coincidence then that Little believes this squad will, too.
2012 record: 4-5 (1-4 in the Western Big Six Conference)
Coach: Rick Little (28-28 at QHS, seventh season; 60-47 overall, 12th season)
Offense: Wing-T; Defense: Multiple
Returning starters: Offense — FB Malique Robbins, 5-11, 190, Sr.; HB Jordan Osborne, 6-1, 180, Sr.; TE Seth Holtschlag, 6-1, 195, Jr.; OL Jacob Calvin, 6-2, 250, Sr.; OL Quentin Lefever, 5-11, 195, Sr.
Defense — LB River Bugh, 5-7, 195, Sr.; DB Matt Bilgri, 5-9, 180, Sr.; DB Parker Schutte, 5-9, 175, Jr.; DE Holtschlag
Other returning letterwinners: K/DB/RB Bryce Unmisig, 5-11, 180, Jr.; OL Jacob Kendall, 6-1, 220, Sr.; OL/DL Tyler Paul, 6-2, 220, Jr.; QB George Crickard IV, 5-11, 180, Jr.; LB Wes Creasy, 5-8, 185, Sr.; DL Cooper Bowles, 6-3, 250, Sr.
New faces: LB Malik Bondon, 6-1, 220, Sr.; OL/DL Blayne Schlueter, 6-2, 245, Soph.; OL/DL Devin Prost, 5-11, 250, Soph.; DB Brady Brockmiller, 5-10, 175; LB Steven Sharpe, 5-9, 175, Sr.; LB Brenden Lewis, 5-9, 175, Sr.
Key Losses: QB Conner Kelle, OL/DL Clay Finklea, OL Ian Jones, OL/DL Jacob Paul, LB Jaydon Summy, LB Dakota Downs, DB Ethan Rockhold.
Time Date Opponent
7:30 p.m. Aug. 30 at United Township*
7:30 p.m. Sept. 6 vs. Peoria Notre Dame
7:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at Rock Island*
7:30 p.m. Sept. 20 vs. Peoria Manual
7:45 p.m. Sept. 27 at Alleman*
7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 vs. Peoria Central
7:30 p.m. Oct. 11 at Moline*
7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 vs. Galesburg*
7:30 p.m. Oct. 25 vs. Peoria Richwoods
* Western Big Six Conference game