As always, Bulldogs in shape to contend
The boys in T-shirts, shorts and helmets jog onto their practice field, and at the end of the snaking line, a few who don’t look like typical Palisade players stride to a stop.
They’re Braxton Stewart, Forrest Trujillo and Michael Walker, all around 6-foot-3.
But they’re not typical offensive-lineman big.
They’re Palisade big, meaning shredded and slender.
“I don’t want them to look like me,” Palisade coach John Arledge says, standing around midfield. “I want them to look like that.”
He points at 190-pound Zach Marengo, who once again will be the Bulldogs’ starting center.
“If they look like me, we’re in trouble.”
Arledge is told he could still play some mean fullback.
He doesn’t seem to listen.
Instead, he offers a reason why the Bulldogs have only a few players over 200 pounds, as is normally the case with Palisade football.
“We just put way too many demands on them,” Arledge says.
And what does Arledge plan on doing with his added size?
“Run the ball, man,” Arledge said.
But here’s the Bulldogs’ business: They would like to improve upon last season’s state semifinals finish, when they lost 55-37 to Silver Creek. One of the best things going for Palisade is it returns a three-year starter at quarterback, Luke McLean.
“He’s a linebacker playing quarterback,” Arledge said.
The Bulldogs will fill holes left by running backs Quinn Zamora, Ronald Kuntz and JT Townsend, who combined for about 2,500 yards rushing.
Dalton Hannigan, a 150-pound wrestling standout, will start at tailback and safety.
“I think we had 45 kids on the varsity level, and they’re just really good,” Arledge said. “They’re in shape. We don’t have any fat kids rolling around. They can all run.”
That is called the Palisade Way. Be lean and mean and wear an opponent out with merciless aggression. And it all starts with McLean.
“He’s improved some throwing the ball,” Palisade offensive coordinator Matt Borgmann said. “And he’s gotten faster.”
McLean, at 200 pounds, has football speed. Pads don’t seem to slow his momentum compared with the average athlete. His 200 pounds at full speed is always good for a few extra yards after contact.
McLean is the quiet leader, showing how to win with class by his actions, Borgmann said.
Caden Woods, who will anchor the defense from his defensive end position, is the vocal one.
“He’s the one who will tell kids what they need to hear when they need to hear it,” Borgmann said.
And Woods has the kind of moxie Arledge is looking for.
“He’s just tough,” Arledge said. “He’s a hard-nosed, in-your-face, run-you-over type kid. He’s pretty typical of what we have.”
They are complementary leaders, McLean and Woods, who hope to lead wiry, nail-tough Palisade back to the state playoffs.
Arledge is back for his eighth season, after compiling a 74-23 record overall. In his time, Palisade has made numerous runs through the playoffs, and even its state losses usually were decided by a few points.
Palisade’s cookie-cutting method of producing such teams could hold true.
“We’ll be able to run the ball well,” Arledge said. “We’ve got to improve on our passing game like always. Defensively, we’ve got some team speed, but we probably lack a little in size. Our outlook is always to go to the state championship or compete for it.”
And this season’s Bulldogs, Arledge said, are as tough and scrappy as always.
“Oh yeah,” Arledge said with a laugh, as though he was replaying summer workouts through his head. “Our kids will be ready to play. Some of those games against Glenwood, Rifle, you have to play a perfect game to win. It’s always going to be good. It’s worth your five bucks.”