BLUE RAPIDS — Tony Trimble doesn’t have the same worries for his Valley Heights football team other high school coaches sometimes battle. The start of football season is fast-moving and exciting, but there’s always question marks paired with the hype. Teams lose their seniors and look for new leaders.

Trimble’s team doesn’t lack for experience.

“We are pretty excited about our possibilities because we only had three seniors last year and one of those guys only got to play part of the season because he tore up his knee,” said Trimble, whose team went 6-4 in 2018. “Most of the season we only played with two seniors, so we have a lot of experience coming back, which we are excited about. That experience also allows us to have more depth. Numbers at a school our size, depth is huge.”

Yet football won’t be the only thing on the mind of Valley Heights’ coaches and players this fall. Lamar E. Whitson, a football assistant who also taught at the high school, died in a car accident May 31. His death has affected both the school and the team, Trimble said.

“Obviously, he was a greatly respected man,” Trimble said. “He was a character guy with everything thing he did, whether it was coaching, teaching or his family. We are going to miss that in him. We are going to memorialize him this year and do some things to remember him, but we don’t want to, in the same sense, overdo it. We have to find that happy medium with memorializing him and recognizing what he has done without taking it overboard to the point that it is a distraction.”

Wendell Smith, who coached at Ottawa University, is replacing Whitson. Trimble said the Mustangs are excited about him because he has a lot of the same heart, character and experience that Whitson brought to the team.

And Smith joins an experienced squad. The Mustangs still don’t have as many players as Trimble said he would like, but besides only having three returning seniors, the stat-fillers from 2018 are back. The most notable returnee for the Mustangs is Cole Coggins, one of the most dominant running backs in the state.

“People talk about Cole Coggins, our tailback who has rushed for 2,700 yards and scored (numerous) touchdowns the last few years,” Trimble said. “We are excited about what he has to offer.”

Along with Coggins is quarterback Cameron Beardsly. He had a full plate last season, starting as a freshman. Beardsly moved into the lineup last year when the Mustangs’ previous starter got hurt. Now, Beardsly has earned the job outright.

“He has done a great job and is learning more of what we do,” Trimble said. “We run the triple-option, so he makes a lot of decisions for us on the field. (He’s) better at understanding if the defense is giving us one thing, he can check for something else. The more he knows, the more we can do.”

Trimble also mentioned Trey Martin as an athlete the Mustangs plan to utilize alongside Coggins. Martin is a junior, which is Valley Heights’ largest class; it played nine sophomores in 2018.

Where Trimble is most concerned heading into the fall is the defense as well as keeping his offensive line healthy. They have been to this point, but the guys up front are pivotal to the success of this run-heavy attack.

“When people look at our stats and they see a box score from the night before they see, ‘Cole Coggins, Cole Coggins, Cole Coggins,’” Trimble said. “We feel like our offensive line is where we hang our hat. If that group is playing well, we will be pretty successful. It’s something we take pride in, the kids take pride in and we know if our offensive line isn’t doing well, we aren’t going to be successful. It’s something we stress every day in practice. Those guys don’t get the glory, but they are definitely a huge part of what we do. We want them to be the identity of our team.”

Trimble also admitted the team leans on its offense. Defense has been a struggle for the Mustangs in the past and with the number of players Trimble has to play on both sides of the ball — Valley Heights often has nine or 10 players who see snaps both ways — keeping the system simple is important.

“We are not going to change from our main, base-type defense other than having to rotate kids around,” Trimble said. “They aren’t lucky enough to know one position; they may need to have to know two or three. That goes for offensive and defensive side of the ball. We are going to try and be a little more aggressive this year.”