While not all of them played, a good portion of Manhattan High’s football roster remembers the disappointment and dissatisfaction of making the trip to Shawnee and losing to the Mill Valley Jaguars, 26-21, in last year’s season opener.
As a new group of starters prepares to open the 2014 campaign against league foe Shawnee Heights at 7 p.m. Friday at Bishop Stadium, the preparation is fixated around starting the year 1-0.
Manhattan head coach Joe Schartz said last year’s team waited until Week 2 to grow up, but hopes this group will learn from their mistakes.
“I think last year we were a little overconfident to start the season, and at times during practice we didn’t have the intensity, so consequently we got off to a slow start,” he said. “I told the team tonight after practice, ‘what do I know about Manhattan High School football? I’ve known that the teams that have gone before you were extremely tough, both mentally and physically. I know that they didn’t let people come in here and push them around on their home field.’
“I don’t know that about this team. We’re going to find out on Friday night, what this team is about. Do I believe that this team has it in them? Yeah, I really do, but up to this point, we don’t know.”
The team standing in Manhattan’s way has not fared well against the Indians historically, with Manhattan holding a 15-2 advantage in the all-time series against the T-Birds, its last loss coming in 1985. Schartz is a perfect 5-0 against Shawnee Heights.
But the most recent meetings have also been unpredictable. The T-Birds boast a solid offensive passing attack, nearly going score for score in 2012 in a 45-35 Manhattan win before dropping a 41-24 decision to the Indians last season behind a plethora of mistakes and turnovers. The team was also without dangerous running back Tony Barksdale Jr.
“Just looking at their roster, they’ve got 23 seniors,” Schartz said of Shawnee Heights. “There’s a lot of talent. Following coach (Jason) Swift over the years, he does a nice job of developing his receivers and quarterbacks. The one thing that really makes this a dangerous group is their running back, Barksdale. They’re able to run the ball, and he’s definitely a threat.”
Shawnee Heights features eight returning starters on both sides of the ball, bringing back a wealth of experience from last year’s 4-6 campaign.
Malik Stanley, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound receiver, has the potential to give the Indians’ defense trouble, though last year he caught just one pass for 8 yards in the loss to Manhattan.
“He’s their stud,” Schartz said. “He’s a big-time receiver and it looks like they’ve got him at free safety this year. He’s really good and a tough matchup.”
The T-Birds will feature a new starter at quarterback this season in 6-foot, 170-pound Cameron Wheatley. The senior got in toward the end of last year’s matchup between the two teams, throwing a touchdown to Austen Hubert, who finished with three touchdowns and 161 yards receiving last season against the Tribe.
“Hubert’s a big-time slot receiver for them,” Schartz said. “They line him up in the power pistol. He’s the offset fullback. They run a lot of play-action with him.”
Manhattan will counter with several dynamic players of its own, starting with senior running back Chris Martin. After hurting his ankle in practice a couple weeks ago, Schartz said Martin is back to practicing at 100 percent.
Helping him along will be an offensive line that has pleased Schartz thus far.
“I’ve been pretty pleased so far with the offensive and defensive lines,” he said. “That may be our strong point, and that’s a good place to be strong, because that’s where the game is won.
“So hopefully they can keep that up and carry that into the game situation, not just in practice. We’re going to be relying heavily on them.”