VERSAILLES – One year after qualifying for the playoffs, the Versailles Tigers are focused on returning to the postseason in 2015.
“Making the playoffs was great,” Versailles football coach Adam Miller said. “That’s our goal again for this season is get back there and hopefully keep climbing the ladder.”
Qualifying for the playoffs won’t be easier, however, as Versailles faces one of the state’s most daunting schedules. In addition to playing Division III Celina and Division IV Valley View in non-conference games, Versailles – who moved up from Division IV to Division V this season – has to play in the always tough Midwest Athletic Conference. Last year the MAC became the first conference in state history to produce three state champions in a single football season – Coldwater in Division V, Minster in Division VI and Marion Local in Division VII.
“The good thing is that it will keep us sharp,” Miller said of his team’s tough schedule. “We know every week is going to be a battle, and we know we’ve got to be prepared every week. Facing that good competition week in and week out will make us a better team, and if we are fortunate enough to make the playoffs we’ll be well prepared.”
The Tigers enter the season, which is the fourth under Miller’s leadership, with almost half of their starters back from the 2014 playoff team.
“We’ve got a good group of kids coming back, and I’d say this is also the deepest team we’ve had in four years,” Miller said. “It’s a lot of good competition at practice, which will make us better in the long run.”
Leading that group is a large senior class that will be expected to guide Versailles throughout the season.
“We definitely have a lot of potential for a great season,” Miller said. “We’ve got 16 seniors that’s kind of the foundation of our team, and we’re putting a lot on their shoulders to carry us through.”
Leading the offense will be senior quarterback Jared Niekamp, who threw for 793 yards in his first season as the Tigers’ starter.
Behind Niekamp will be H-back Adam Lyons and tailback Collin Peters, who led the Tigers with 1,182 rushing yards last season.
Alex Wendel and Corey Dieringer will split out as the Tigers’ starting receivers, and Kyle Marchal will start at tight end.
Grant Keller, Kyle Gigandet, Eric Knapke, Brett Gigandet and Jacob Heitkamp will lead the way up front as Versailles’ starting offensive linemen.
Versailles will have a similar offense as last year with one significant change – the Tigers are switching to a pistol formation that will utilize shotgun snaps instead of having the quarterback under center.
“It allows us a little bit more flexibility and alignment to help our guys execute,” Miller said.
On defense Denver Toner and Gavin Mills will man the defensive end spots while Harrison Detrick and Kyle Gigandet will start inside at defensive tackle.
Jonny Moorman, Kurtis Rutschilling and Adam Lyons will line up at linebacker for the Tigers.
In the defensive backfield Versailles has Sam Barga and Mitchell Paulus at corner and Corey Dieringer and Tanner Bey playing safety.
One thing Miller likes about his team is that the Tigers have senior leaders at practically every position.
“The thing that I like is we’ve got a good group of seniors that are spread out all over the place,” he said.
Another positive for Versailles entering the season is that the Tigers are now in their fourth year under Miller. That has led to familiarity with the offensive and defensive schemes and allowed the Tigers to thoroughly prepare for the tough tests that lie ahead.
“With it being the fourth year in the system, the kids are really picking up on things quickly so we feel we can progress onto other things and just be more prepared for Friday nights,” Miller said.
The Tigers know they’ll face a tough test every week. It won’t be easy to make the playoffs, but if they can they know they’ll be well prepared for any postseason challenges that might come their way.
“We feel if we get to the playoffs we can do some damage,” Miller said.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports. For more features online go to advocate360.org or ‘like The Daily Advocate’ on Facebook by searching Advocate360.