Chippewas, Sabers start preparations for upcoming football season

Manistee quarterback Keelan Eskridge (center), coach Jamie Tabaczka (left) and running back Landon Powers (right) run through a drill during the Chippewas’ first day of practice for the 2018 season on Monday. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

Manistee quarterback Keelan Eskridge (center), coach Jamie Tabaczka (left) and running back Landon Powers (right) run through a drill during the Chippewas’ first day of practice for the 2018 season on Monday. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — Summer, we hardly knew ye.

Monday saw one of the harbingers of autumn, the first day of practice for the upcoming high-school football season.

Both of the two schools in Manistee hope to extend their seasons with playoff football in 2018.

Manistee High School will look to rebound after snapping a streak of five winning records in the span of six seasons, going 2-7 in 2017, head coach Troy Bytwork’s first season at the helm of the program.

Bytwork said that he’s bringing back 21 of his 22 starters from last year’s squad, which is now a year older, stronger and wiser.

And bigger. The 2017 Chippewas were at a significant size disadvantage in virtually every game they played, and it showed when they let fourth-quarter leads slip through their fingers.

“We put a lot of off-season work in,” Bytwork said. “For the first time since I’ve been at Manistee, we can put four guys on our offensive line who are over 200 pounds. We’ve had some kids do some pretty amazing things since December in the weight room. We’re actually starting to get to the point where we have some bigger fellas up front.”

Bytwork hopes his defense will take full advantage of that increased bulk, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

“We’ve got to be a little more consistent stopping people,” he said. “That’s a major point of emphasis.”

Manistee Catholic Central looks to post its first winning record in 8-player football, and hopes to snag the playoff appearance to which the Sabers were achingly close last season, missing out on playoff points after finishing with a 4-4 record.

The MCC offense was a potent one in 2017, scoring an average of over 46 points per game, which is impressive even in the 8-player game.

But MCC head coach Jake Szymanski said that his team could have scored even more, and will make red-zone offense a point of emphasis this season.

“We want to be able to finish drives, plain and simple,” Szymanski said. “The last couple of years we’ve been able to control the ball better than anybody else, but we haven’t been able to put it in once we got inside the 20. Finishing in practice has got to be a focal point so that we can finish on Friday.”

There were 13 players at the first practice, but the Sabers expect as many as 25 to come out once work and other obligations are fulfilled.

“We’re missing a few, but we’ll see what happens,” Szymanski said.

The two schools will have less than three full weeks to prepare for their first games of 2018.

Manistee’s season opener will be away, but not far away. The Chippewas will make the short trip to Scottville to face Mason County Central on Thursday, Aug. 23.

MCC will start the 2018 campaign with a home game against Hale on Friday, Aug. 24.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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