By Dave Switzer
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Despite heavy losses to graduation, Gardner Edgerton’s goal for the 2011 season remains the same:  play deep into the playoffs with a shot at the state championship.
This year’s edition of the Blazers certainly has a realistic shot to accomplish that.
GE, led by coach Marvin Diener, returns six starters on both sides of the ball and has some explosive newcomers ready to take on one of the state’s most difficult schedules.
The Blazer defense will be spearheaded by a deep, talented linebacker group.  Two-year starters Brent Bovitz and Marcus Williams-both seniors-are the leaders of the corps.  Both of these young men are being heavily recruited by D2 colleges. Junior middle backer Matt Plank, also a returning starter, was a force in the middle as a sophomore last year and has great potential at that spot, with Division One colleges beginning to show interest.  Senior Jerrad McDermont is the projected starter at the final linebacking position.
The defensive secondary has two returning starters-seniors Austin Goldsmith and Colten Peavehouse.  Each has good coverage skills which is extremely important in the pass-happy Eastern Kansas League. Seniors Alex Winkler and Justin Long have the inside track for the other two defensive backfield spots
Senior Jimmy Orwick is the only returning starter on the defensive line.  Orwick is a high energy run-stopper who also gives a great pass rush.  Juniors Max Knorr and Dalton Kirk have emerged as the probable starters at the other two line positions as the Blazers go to a 3-4 defense this year.
On the other side of the ball, the offensive line looks to be a real strength as three starters return.  Seniors Cayden White and Mason Rogers are tall, athletic and experienced at the tackle spots and are both being recruited by MIAA colleges. Fellow senior and returning starter Greg Hopper will be at one of the guard positions with junior Denton Lawrence being at the other.  Jacob Fretz will get the starting nod at center.
The receiving corps will be led by senior wideout Ryan Goetzman who came on strong during last year’s playoff run.  Tim Seymour, another senior and returning starter, is  explosive playmaker at the other receiver spot and also returns punts. The tight end will be Conner Knorr, a 225 pound junior who has  good hands and is an outstanding blocker.  Jamain Lang will also see action when the team goes to three receiver sets.
The backfield will have one solid returning starter-fullback Clayton Dye.  The senior is a fine blocker and can be counted on to pick up some tough yards.  The tailback spot will be manned by sophomore Traevohn Wrench.  Wrench is a game changer and looks to have a breakout year.  The quarterback will be another sophomore-Jared Hobby.  Hobby is blessed with a strong arm and is a good leader.  Hobby’s throwing ability will make the Blazers a bit more balanced than last year’s run-happy squad.
Place-kicking duties will be held by Chase Lee while Long will be the punter.  Lee is a very reliable extra-point man and is also known for his booming kickoffs.
Diener thinks this year’s team has what it takes to again take that deep run into the playoffs.  Most pundits agree as GE is highly ranked in most preseason polls.
“We have some real good players returning on both sides of the ball and our sophomore quarterback and running back-Traevohn Wrench and Jared Hobby-are both very fine football players. We’re going to find out very early how good we are but I feel confident about this year’s group.
Diener is referring to his team’s opening game at East Saint Louis, Illinois which will be regionally televised.  The Flyers are traditionally a power in Illinois big school football and are often nationally ranked.   They feature several Division One recruits and should be quite a challenge for GE
That game is part of a brutal schedule that will feature Blue Valley-the state’s returning 5A champs. Another marquee matchup will be with McPherson.  The Bullpups- have made their mark in 5A the past several years and feature a Division One quarterback prospect.  In addition will be a district game with a proud Pittsburg program and the rugged EKL slate featuring the annual grudge match with Saint Thomas Aquinas.
The EKL has produced three state champion teams in the past four years and traditionally supplies the eastern representative in the 5A state championship game.  The bet here is that it will happen again-most likely coming down to a battle between GE and Blue Valley.
The season begins on Sunday Sept. 4 in that contest at East Saint Louis.  The Blazer program-170 players strong-will have five squads this season-Freshmen A and B, Sophomore, Junior Varsity, and Varsity-whose home opener is Sept. 16 against Bishop Miege.