Bloomington returns 26 lettermen from last year''s 7-3 team. (Photo by Bryan Bloodworth/WJBC)
By Bryan Bloodworth
BLOOMINGTON - Bloomington High School’s football team will be gunning for its 27th consecutive appearance in the state playoffs this season, but the Purple Raiders want more.
“Our goal - and we set this goal as they come in as freshman - is to obviously reach for as high as we can and we use the expression state championship,” said Coach Rigo Schmelzer, who is beginning his 21st season at the helm.
“Making the playoffs is perhaps a year-in and year-out end result of setting those high goals. We think we have a good nucleus back, so we’d like to think that it’s not just about making the playoffs but we at least get some wins and are playing in November.”
BHS returns 26 lettermen, but only six starters on defense and three on offense from last year’s 7-3 team that shared the Big 12 Conference title with Urbana. The Purple Raiders lost in the opening round of the Class 6A playoffs to Peoria Richwoods and haven’t advanced past the first-round in five years.
“We return a lot of our interior on the defensive side,” Schmelzer continued. “We feel as though the down linemen are going to be solid. We also really like our two linebackers in Austin Weltha, who will be in his third year starting, and Devon Roberts.”
Weltha led the Purple Raiders in tackles last season with 114, including 43 solo stops, while Roberts returns from a knee injury that limited his playing time. Other defensive starters returning are linemen Rayvon Shorter, Jordan Somlar and 306-pound Robert Hooker, along with backs Kendrick Cooley and Nick Ware.
The offense returns all-conference quarterback Jake Romani, who completed 121 of 257 passes for 1,905 yards and 22 touchdowns, and Cooley at running back where he gained 775 yards on 68 carries. Other offensive players, who saw action a year ago, are tackle Caleb Meyer and center Joe Grant and wide receiver Theo Eddins.
“We’re really high on Jake Romani,” said Schmelzer. ”He had a great year last year. We also think Kendrick Cooley at tailback gives us the flexibility as far as what we can do with him besides just being a runner.
“I like the fullbacks from Austim Weltha Devon Roberts to Seffon Falls. They are kids who give us an opportunity to put somebody fresh in there. We feel good about our offensive backfield, but as funny as it sounds for as strong as our defensive line is we’re a little concerned about our offensive line.
“We’re also concerned about some of the skill in the secondary and our receiving corps where we really lost a lot of that speed that helped Bloomington finish third in the state in track a year ago.”
The Purple Raiders open the season Friday at home against Danville, which is expected to contend for the conference title with BHS and Urbana.
“These are good kids,” added Schmeler. “They’re working very hard. This is a group we have strong beliefs in. We think they are going to be successful, but we do think there are going to be pieces of the puzzle that are going to have to get moved.
“We’re not certain with the shortened number of practices and the lack of contact if we have the right people in the right spots. We can see some evolution occurring over the course of the season.”
Bryan Bloodworth can be reached at email@example.com.