Carmichaels head coach Ryan Krull describes the Mikes’ 2016 season very matter-of-factly.
“It was a good season,” he said. “But I won’t say it was a great season.”
The good: A 7-3 overall record and a Tri-County South Conference title with an undefeated conference record.
The not great: Two nonconference losses, but more important, a 50-44 first-round loss to Springdale in the WPIAL Class A playoffs.
Carmichaels has been a consistent playoff team, making the postseason in 12 of the last 14 years and three of Krull’s four seasons at the helm. The Mikes haven’t been able to take the next step, though, losing all 12 of their first-round playoff games in that time.
Krull said he doesn’t believe there is a “magic formula” to give the Mikes their first playoff win in more than a decade, nor does he think winning a playoff game should be the team’s goal.
“We don’t tell our guys, ‘This is the year we’re going to break through and win a playoff game,’” Krull said. “Winning a playoff game isn’t going to take the weight off our shoulders. I want to win every game that we play.”
Krull wants to keep it simple. Winning football games, he says, comes down to two things.
“It’s blocking and tackling,” Krull said. “For us to take the next step, we can’t have games where we do one or the other well. We have to block well and tackle well every single game. Everything else will take care of itself.”
On defense, Krull realizes he doesn’t have an athlete who is going to be a “gamebreaker,” thus the defensive players will need to stick to their assignments – something Krull said, along with poor tackling, broke down in the playoff loss last year.
All five starters on the offensive line have significant playing experience, and he’s looking for them to be the lifeblood of the team.
“There’s no unit that’s more critical to an offense than an offensive line,” he said. “As our offensive line goes, so will we. That group that we have up front is going to be what determines how many points we put on the scoreboard.”
At the skill positions, the Mikes are bringing back several key players, each of whom Krull expects to play significant roles in a Mikes offense attuned for spreading the wealth.
Despite losing one of its main tailbacks in Cody Brown, the Mikes are gaining a back who missed most of last season with an injury. Senior Nick Mundell, the team’s starting tailback at the beginning of last season, missed most of his junior year after injuring his knee in Week 3.
Krull said Mundell is healthy and will be splitting time at tailback with junior Joey Minor, who split time with Brown last season.
The Mikes also return senior H-backs, Brennen Pelzer and Nate Broadwater, as well as sophomore Dylan Wilson and junior Garrett Ponick at the wide receiver position.
Krull wants the offense to continue to spread the ball around as it has in year’s past. “I think when you’re getting the ball in multiple guys’ hands and keeping guys fresh, you’re keeping the defense on their heels,” he said.
The biggest question heading into the season for the Mikes is who will be the person replacing Jonathan Christopher at quarterback.
While Krull said nothing is official, he expects sophomore Kevin Kelly to be under center for the Mikes. While Krull described Christopher as a “runner who could throw,” he contrastingly coined Kelly as a “thrower who can run.”
“The biggest void is when you have to replace a quarterback,” Krull said. “(Kelly) has been in the program, and he understands expectations and what we’re looking for offensively.”
A new quarterback could cause things to be complex for the Mikes.
Krull’s going to keep it simple, though. “If we block well and tackle well,” he said, “we shouldn’t have any problems.”