ASHLAND – For the first time since 2008, members of the Ashland-Greenwood Bluejay football team found themselves on the outside looking in to the Class C-1 playoffs after their final regular season game on Oct. 21.
It was foreign territory for veteran head coach Ryan Thompson, who enters his 10th season as the head coach of the Bluejays.
“It was a different feeling, that’s for sure,” said Thompson when asked about not being part of the postseason.
Thompson took over in 2008, and prior to last season it was his only season where he hadn’t led the Jays into the playoffs.
The Bluejays finished runner-up in Class C-1 in 2013 and 2014 and have an 11-7 record in the playoffs under Thompson, who have compiled a record of 63-29 in nine years as the Jays head coach.
AGHS finished 4-4 last season and needed to win their final two games of the season to finish .500.
“I think that was important for us. It showed some toughness by our team and we were playing a lot of young guys in those two games. Guys we are going to count on a lot this year,” said Thompson.
Speaking of young guys, it is most likely going to be a sophomore under center for the Jays when they open the season against Wahoo on Aug. 25.
145-pound sophomore Hunter Washburn has the edge to take over at QB for the Bluejays. Washburn started for the junior varsity team as a freshman and Thompson is confident in his ability.
“Hunter is a smart kid and as he matures, I think he will turn into a really good quarterback,” said his head coach.
Young talented weapons will surround Washburn this season.
170-pound sophomore running back Bryce Kitrell is poised for a breakout season after being slowed by a leg injury last year as a freshman.
Kitrell will replace Class C-1’s all-time leading rusher Trevor Nichelson who graduated in May with 6,480 career rushing yards and 95 touchdowns.
“Trevor was a special player, that goes without saying, but Bryce brings a little different dynamic to the running back position. His speed will hopefully lend to some big plays in the running game for us,” said Thompson.
170-pound senior Will vonRentzell is expected to play fullback for the Jays in 2017.
165-pound senior Dylan Green, 170-pound senior Clay Allington, 140-pound junior Sawyer Buller, 165-pound junior Nolan Kasuske and 135-pound sophomore Brayden Whitehead will be called upon to make plays for AGHS this season.
Games are won up front and the Jays should be stout in the trenches led by 210-pound senior Erik Pike and 200-pound senior Colton Yard.
“Those two guys have played a lot of football for us and will lead the way up front for us on both sides of the ball,” Thompson added.
215-pound sophomore Jacob Ludwig also returns after starting at guard as a freshman.
Thompson is in charge of the defense and thinks that his unit will be improved in 2017 despite returning just five starters.
The Jays allowed 33.9 points a game last season.
“I think that we can be better. We tried to switch to a 3-man front last year and it didn’t work, so that was on me. We will come out in more traditional 4-man front this year and we should be more equipped to slow teams down,” said Thompson.
The defense will have to be ready to go on Aug. 25 when they travel to Wahoo to take on a high-powered Warrior team.
The Warriors scored 43 unanswered points last season in Ashland and left town with a season-opening 43-8 victory.
The Bluejays non-district schedule also features contests with Falls City (4-4), Archbishop Bergan (5-4) and Boys Town (9-3).
“The non-district schedule is going to challenge us. All four of those teams will be a handful for us,” said Thompson.