New Central backfield ready to help program reload

Central quarterback Cole Phillips goes through a drill during a preseason practice in Camp Point. Phillips will be one of three new members of the Panthers’ starting backfield this season. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Aug. 27, 2013 3:57 am Updated: Sep. 10, 2013 4:15 am

Herald-Whig Sports Writer

CAMP POINT, Ill. -- Austin Kramberg lifted up his cleat and bent it away from his body, showing how he got used to running when his toe was injured.

Dalton Heubner helped him fix that.

Kramberg started with a horrible stance. Heubner helped him fix that.

Kramberg didn't really know how to catch a pass or block correctly, which Heubner also helped him correct.

After Heubner helped lead Central-Southeastern to its first Class 2A state semifinal appearance last season, he also left Kramberg with a lasting message.

Making the playoffs isn't a goal. At Central, which has made five straight postseason appearances, it is the expectation.

"Last year, just playing one side, it was all right to me," Kramberg said. "Dalton said to me that it's your team with Cole (Phillips), Alger (Saldana) and Bob (Keltz). When he said that, I was shocked and I thought, ‘Oh gosh, it's my senior year.' But I'm ready to take that on."

Central, which is on its own after co-op with Southeastern dissolved, will have to replace three-fourths of its starting backfield that rushed for 4,004 yards in 2012.

Heubner (1,507) and Doug Weese (1,136) combined for 2,643 of those yards. Junior Cole Phillips will step in for two-year starting quarterback Seth Leezer.

Alger Saldana and Kramberg will start at wingback. Saldana rushed for 185 yards last season, while Kramberg had 20.

Working on the timing starts early for the Panthers.

"From junior high up, the coaches do the exact same thing in varsity practice they do in junior high," Kramberg said. "We eat everyday before our Friday game together and ride the bus up there together, even the freshman."

Panthers coach Brad Dixon knows a little about working with new backfields. Weese and Heubner weren't the workhorses before last season.

Nathan Knuffman and Garrett Kestner were the top dogs in 2011.

"Probably to people on the outside, it's a new backfield," Dixon said. "But those guys are getting the same amount of reps every single day. Out here right now, we have a group of six or seven getting 100, 150 reps. Last year, we got to practice an extra four weeks after the (regular) season. You can't really put a value on that."

Junior fullback Bobby Keltz, who is Central's leading returning rusher with 767 yards, isn't worried about the prospect of seeing so many new faces in a double-wing offense that requires precision timing. Keltz and his teammates turned up the heat in the summer.

"We practiced 212 degrees this summer," Keltz said. "That's the boiling point of water. Last season, making it to the semifinals was 211 degrees. We're working hard to get that extra degree."

Right now, the focus is to make sure everything becomes a force of habit. With four returning starters on the offensive line -- Mike Johnson, Eann Diller, Jared Starman and Jacob Eilers -- the backfield is moving behind an experience group.

Phillips wants to make sure the backfield does its part to keep things moving forward.

"Last year, no one expected us to make it that far," Phillips said. "We're working our butts off to make sure it happens again."

Competition in the Western Illinois Valley Conference North Division will be tough. Tripoia made the semifinals in Class 1A last season, and Brown County will return nine starters on offense and 10 on defense from a playoff team.

Dixon hopes his new backfield will make sacrifices for each other.

"The most important thing more than running is to block," Dixon said. "The guys we had last year sold out for each other blocking. All the plays the other wingback was successful on was because the opposite wingback was blocking for him."

Selling out for each other is something Dixon shouldn't have to worry about.

It is expected.

"We have the best line in the state," Keltz said. "I'm not worried about who we have running the ball."


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