As the days and evenings grow a little cooler and students prepare for their return to the classrooms, there are others readying themselves for change. Indian River head football coach Jim Bunting knows that returning to the field isn’t going to be quite the same this year, without last year’s seniors, anchored by quarterback Nick Kmetz, wide receiver Trevor Abbott and special teams phenom Luke Wingate. However, he’s hoping for another impressive showing, as the Indians captured an 8-2 season last year, slipping only to Delmar and Sussex Central.
Opening their season with a scrimmage against Caesar Rodney, Bunting expected to get a feel for how his players operate together.
“I’m a firm believer in chemistry on a team,” he said.
After sitting down with the new team captains, he is confident he has found the leadership he sought.
“We put a lot of things at ease,” he said. “The guys were asking me questions about myself. We really bonded and connected. All the guys are good friends, and they’ve really taken that to the sport.”
Cody Cooke, Shelby Dolby, Luke Long, Sean Lynch, Danny Bokinsky and Zach Kmetz were selected by the players back in May to lead Indian River in the 2008 season. Though coaches are not permitted to organize practices during the off-season, the captains brought players together, scheduling small-sided scrimmages, practices and runs.
“The [captains] really took control,” said Bunting, “and I’m trying to give them that feel of responsibility.”
In the past, Bunting has brought back former captains and players to help run summer camp and practices.
“It really allows the guys to go have fun,” he said.
Once again, familiar faces filled out the field as the team prepared for the fall.
“I’m a firm believer that we all give back in one way or another,” said Bunting. Referencing a Winston Churchill quote, he stated, “You make a living by accumulating things, and you make a life by giving things.”
According to Bunting’s philosophy, 80 percent of the game comes down to mental stability, with the remaining 20 percent set on the physical aspect.
“You have to be ready mentally, as well as in shape,” he said. “We can get them in shape, but it comes down to whether they’re ready when they get out there. We’re throwing a lot of mud against the fence. I just hope some of it sticks.”
From contributions in the Pop Warner league to volunteering time in the community, Bunting’s ideals have rubbed off on his players.
“The pre-season is what it is,” he said. “We’ve had a strong showing leading up to this, and a scrimmage against Caesar Rodney is a huge springboard for our season.”
With Nick Kmetz’s departure, the main question for Bunting and his staff is filling the quarterback position. Through the scrimmage, the coaches had their work cut out for them.
“I brought in the junior varsity coach to call all the plays,” he said. “I [wanted] my offensive coordinators really observing what was going on.”
Deliberation came down to performances from Cory Showalter, Bo Wilkinson, Timmy Bokinski and freshman Jamie Jarmon, who tried his luck with the varsity squad following a flawless season with Selbyville Middle School’s team last year.
With a young team filling out the field this year, the Indians will hope to capitalize, first and foremost, on the defensive side of the ball.
“The defense definitely carries the burden,” said Bunting. “We knew what we had last year, and we can’t do what we did. Our defense can’t stay on the field for 8-, 10- and 12-minute drives. Of course, we all wish for the three-and-out, but we have a quick team, and we’ve got guys who can get to our opponents.”
As for the turnaround, it’s hard for Bunting to put into perspective what the offensive attack will be.
“You can look at percentages,” he noted, “but it all depends on how things evolve. We have to start from the ground up.”
Last year’s senior running back, Justin Kraft, helped get the Indians gain yardage on the ground, but returning backs should help fuel the rushing game for the green and gold.
“We’ve got a number of younger backs, like Tyree [Oliver],” said Bunting, “who are starting to show that they can get at it, and why not let them go for it?”
While he has geared his team to give their all, both at practices and in the games this year, Bunting stressed the importance of the team enjoying themselves.
“Trevor [Abbott] was a great player,” he said, “but I remember him saying what he disliked the most were the practices. That’s my mission this year — as it always was when I was at the middle school — these kids are going to have fun.”
The Indians will begin their regular season on Sept. 5 when they travel to Cape Henlopen.
“I’m sure the guys will come out strong,” said Bunting. “Our first game will let us know if everything we’ve done from June to August is going to pay off.”