District changes improve Indians' playoff outlook
Published: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 12:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 12:38 p.m.
The Keystone Heights Indians come into 2013 off back-to-back winning seasons.
Keystone Heights Indians
2012 record: 6-4
Coach: Chuck Dickinson (15th year, overall record 70-69)
Key games: Sept. 13 at Union County; Sept. 27 vs. Newberry; Nov. 1 vs. Bradford
Players to watch: Michael Carroll, Sr. RB/LB, Darien Gilio, Sr. RB/LB, Sam Anderson, Jr. RB/LB, Josh Knight, Sr. NG/FB, Tate Williams, Sr., C
(all games start at 7:30 p.m unless noted)
Aug. 30 West Nassau
Sept. 6 at Wildwood
Sept. 13 at Union County
Sept. 20 at Umatilla* 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 Newberry
Oct. 4 Eustis
Oct. 11 Idle
Oct. 18 at The Villages*
Oct. 25 Interlachen*
Nov. 1 Bradford*
Nov. 8 at Santa Fe
*District 4-4A games
But a close loss to rival Bradford kept the Indians out of the playoffs in 2012, and losses to Mount Dora and South Sumter ended Keystone's 2011 year short of the postseason as well.
While the Indians' 2013 team must replace leading rusher Alex Gonzales and leading tackler John Brown from last year, the good news for Chuck Dickinson's team is South Sumter and Mount Dora have moved up to Class 5A and out of Keystone's district.
In his 15th season as Keystone Heights head coach, Dickinson says expectations are high to end the Indians' seven-year playoff drought.
"We expect to compete for the district title," Dickinson said. "We are only as good as our seniors, and our goal is to be better than the team the year before. We went 6-4 and missed the playoffs, so we expect to do better this season."
On offense, Keystone Heights must replace Gonzales, who rushed for 1,401 yards and 13 TDs in 2012. The Indians will use a running back by committee, led by seniors Michael Carroll and Darien Gilio and junior Sam Anderson. Carroll is the leading returning rusher with 299 yards and five TDs in 2012. Senior Blake Valenzuela, who completed 34 of 100 passes for 368 yards last season, returns as the Keystone quarterback. Dickinson is especially looking for more from his senior signal-caller in 2013, but also knows his team will be primarily run first.
"Last year we were at about a 35 percent passing ratio, so we need to be more efficient in the passing game," Dickinson said. "But we were at about an 85-15 run-to-pass ratio last year and we really want to run the ball and keep the other team off the field while avoiding mistakes."
Since they are primarily a running team, Keystone Heights will count heavily on their offensive line. Tate Williams is expected to step in for the graduated Andrew Stanley and lead the Indians on the O-line.
Defensively, Keystone Heights must replace linebackers Chris Gillen and Brown, who led the Indians with 68 tackles, 77 assists, five interceptions and four fumble recoveries last season. Anderson is expected to pick up much of the slack at the linebacker position, after posting 65 tackles and 49 assists as a sophomore in 2012.
Senior nose guard Josh Knight will man the middle of Keystone's defensive line, with senior defensive back Grant McGee and junior defensive back Brighton Gibbs leading the way for a young secondary.
Dickinson knows depth will also be an issue for Keystone Heights this season.
"Obviously we can't have injuries because of depth issues," Dickinson said. "Some of our guys play two positions and maybe three. We have to rotate guys in and out so they're not on the field all the time."
2006 was the last time Keystone Heights made the playoffs, and they haven't won a playoff game under Dickinson. District 4-4A will still be tough with rivals Bradford and Interlachen, and Umatilla remains with The Villages moving up from Class 1A. But Dickinson also realizes the road to the postseason has opened up a bit.
"When you lose South Sumter, that's a perennial playoff team," Dickinson said. "That is a big help. Bradford and Interlachen are still there, and those are rivalry games so we should be fired up. It's going to be a good district, and we have a chance to do well in it if we play well. Everyone has a chance."