When you’re the 11th-winningest coach in the history of Indiana high school football, embellishing expectations to appease a fan base is hardly necessary.
After 35 seasons, Mike Gillin is a proven commodity, having coached some marginal squads, but mainly good ones. Winning ones. At times even championship-caliber ones.
Yet even with all he’s achieved, the 14th-year Indian Creek coach can’t help wondering what these Braves can accomplish if what’s on paper transfers to the football field in the weeks ahead.
“We’ve got 17 seniors, and I think any time you have 17 seniors you’re supposed to be pretty successful. I think these guys know that, but they also know we lost two of our first three games last year after leading by two touchdowns,” said Gillin, who is 117-35 at Indian Creek and 283-107 overall, having previously coached at Tri-West and Decatur Central.
Indian Creek has been among the state’s top Class 3A programs since his arrival.
“Our big thing this year is we’re going to try to finish, do a better job of finishing plays and finishing games,” Gillin said. “Maintaining the strength that we start with. That’s a big key. But this senior group is very mature, very understanding; and they’ve set some really lofty goals for themselves.
“They also know it goes one game at a time.”
Braves players learned this harsh lesson last August the moment tailback Dokken Egenolf suffered a season-ending knee injury during the first half of a 47-0 win at Knightstown in Week 1.
Healthy again, the 5-foot-7, 190-pound Egenolf hopes to duplicate if not outdo his accomplishments as a sophomore, when he rushed for 1,293 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Egenolf’s talents are the ideal complement to 6-3, 180-pound junior quarterback Gynson Robley, who is coming off a 2013 season in which he completed 70 of 114 pass attempts for 1,074 yards, 11 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
Robley and Nic Brown, a 6-2, 190-pound senior, alternated plays last season. Robley is now the starter, though Gillin won’t hesitate giving opposing defenses an altogether different look with Brown, the better runner of the two.
Indian Creek also returns four of its five starters on what will be a sizable offensive line: tackles Braxton Zachery (6-6, 265) and Corey Sheetz (6-1, 195), and guards Nick Clevenger (6-1, 280) and Tyler Hamilton (6-4, 250). Biggest of all is newcomer Sam Trammell (6-4, 330), the Braves’ starting center.
“You know, we’ve finally got some depth up front we haven’t had since we went to the semistate (in 2010),” Gillin said. “We got some size. We got six linemen who can play both sides of the ball, and we’ve got some young kids who can step in there.
“I think the depth factor up front is going to be a big factor in us being successful this year.”
Seniors Ethan Whitaker and Jake McGowan and sophomore Bryce Hogue lead a deep pool of pass catchers. Dylan Walker will be utilized as an H-back.
Half of Indian Creek’s opponents scored 20 or more points against its defense a year ago, a drastic departure from the other six games, in which the Braves permitted a total of only 45 points.
Jimmy Starks, a 5-9, 175-pound senior, begins his third season starting at cornerback for the Braves. He’ll be joined in the secondary by cornerback Brandon Stewart and Brown at free safety.
“Our defense can be as good as we’ve had. We do have some question marks with two secondary players who haven’t started before, in Stewart and Brown, even though they’re both unbelievably athletic. Jimmy Starks is a lockdown corner, a three-year starter, so we feel good there,” Gillin said. “We’ve got four lettermen at linebacker with Walker, Nick Mathis and Elijah Maness.
“Our rover, Austin Wheeler, is a move-over from Center Grove. We really like our defense.”
Junior Hunter Pottoroff and Sheetz are expected to be the ends, while Walker handles kicking and punting responsibilities.
“Our players know the work is cut out for them, but I really like their attitude. They know that just because there are a lot of seniors, that doesn’t mean we’ll win. Just because Mike Gillin is their coach doesn’t mean they’re going to win,” Gillin said. “They win because they go out there and prepare hard during the preseason and then week-to-week.”