Steven Keeney and his Francis Scott Key teammates are well aware of the Eagles’ success in 2017, but Keeney said there is still work to be done.
The Eagles won their first three games last season, and closed out the year with a 6-3 record, the team’s first winning season in 11 years. The team was small in numbers, but it paved the way for multiple players to gain experience from both sides of the ball.
“It’s crazy because it’s been [11 years] since Key had a season like that,” Keeney said. “We’re keeping the hopes up and keeping the spirit up and driving, playing harder and better than we did last year to keep that winning streak going.
“We got it … we’ll find out Friday what we really have and what we need to work on.”
Key travels to North East in Cecil County for its season opener, a team it drubbed 39-7 in Week 1 last fall to get things going.
A significant loss to the Eagles’ offense came with the graduation of Nate Imes, the county’s leading rusher with 152 carries for 1,390 yards and 22 touchdowns last season. Imes was a Times first-team all-countian and contributed on both sides of the ball — he collected 57 tackles as a linebacker for the Eagles as well.
FSK returns a solid group of players that each played significant roles in the team’s success last season. Keeney and fellow senior Bobby Sylves are both back and the duo were two of the Eagles’ top rushers in 2017 — Sylves finished with 60 carries for 338 yards and six touchdowns and Keeney ran for 29 carries on 259 yards and three scores.
Third-year coach Josh Rutter praised his team’s ability to adapt with small numbers, despite the challenges that come with it at times.
“We have a lot of hardworking, blue collar kids and they come to practice, they know what to expect,” Rutter said. “Come game time, hopefully we’ve got the prepared enough that it’s not too different than what they experienced throughout the week and we hope that we get enough reps with conditioning that they’ll be in good shape and ready to go for the first week.”
Look for Keeney to man the quarterback position in place of Jake Pirrung, who graduated last year — Rutter said he expects him to throw the ball, run the ball, and get the team in good offensive positions.
Hardly any changes will be made to the team’s Wing-T offense this season. The Eagles return all but one starter from their offensive line and Rutter acknowledged the success of last year’s group to provide continuity for this year’s unit.
“I think the senior class we had last year was really, really good and I think they did a god job of kind of modeling what it was going to take to be successful and these guys,” Rutter said. “Once again, we have good senior leadership and so they took those things they learned and really put it into play in the offseason.”
Will Sturdivant, a first-teamer last season, and fellow senior Kane Richardson are both back to help anchor the offensive line — Rutter called Richardson an “extension of the coaching staff.”
Richardson led the Eagles’ 4-2-5 defense with 97 tackles a year ago.
“Our motivation is to play without those seniors and to just try to do what the program needs us to do so we can keep succeeding and building off of last season,” Richardson said. “It was a very good season last year so we have to at least perform to continue to keep the program in an upward trend.”