We’re talking Horlick High School football this week after the Rebels improved to 8-0 with their victory over Franklin, the second-ranked large schools division team in the state, last Friday. Going into the last week of the regular season, here’s a smorgasbord of thoughts on the greatest Horlick team in at least 41 years:
What a rush
How times have changed. When Horlick opened its 2009 season with a 56-40 loss to Sussex Hamilton, Rebels quarterback Kellen Miller completed 31 of 53 passes for 480 yards and five touchdowns. That’s 190 more passing yards than Horlick has had in eight games this season.
Horlick coach Brian Fletcher started putting his personal touch on Horlick’s offense the following season, when he replaced George Machado as coach. He scrapped the spread offense in favor of a Wing T.
Machado developed two first-team AP All-State quarterbacks — Tony Stauss and Steve Morris — during the 13 seasons he used the spread. But Fletcher, who played and coached under Machado at Horlick, simply has a different philosophy than the man he still talks to regularly to this day.
“I wanted to control the clock,” Fletcher said. “I felt that was something that was really important to us, especially late in the season in Wisconsin with the bad weather.
“I didn’t think we would be as strong or as dominant as we have been this year, but I felt being able to get the ball to three kids — four, if you have a quarterback who is mobile — stresses a defense just as much as being able to spread the ball out to different receivers.”
How potent is Horlick? The Rebels rank second in the state in rushing yards with 2,967 (Clinton is first with 3,431). But Horlick’s average of 9.8 rushing yards per attempt ranks first.
How difficult is it for opposing coaches to draw up strategy for trying to contain Joe Garcia, George Sims and Jager Clark?
“It’s very difficult,” Case coach Bryan Shredl said. “In fact, it’s a nightmare. They keep it simple and their players have been running those plays since they were little (playing for Racine Youth Sports) and you can tell.”
A face in the crowd
If Horlick defeats Kenosha Indian Trail Friday night, it will finish a regular season 9-0 for the first time since 1976 — the year the Rebels went on to play in the first WIAA championship game for football held in Wisconsin. How long ago was that? Fletcher was born 17 months after that 1976 team lost 6-0 to Antigo in the state championship game.
Steve Schonert, a junior kicker on the ‘76 Rebels, still lives in Racine and takes in an occasional Horlick game, including two this season. What parallels does Schonert see between the ‘76 and ‘17 Rebels?
“We also had a really good offense,” Schonert said. “But I would say we were more of a power offense and we threw the ball more than Horlick does today. It’s just my opinion, but they’re more of a finesse team with misdirection and they’ve got really good scat-backs.
“Watching Garcia, I don’t know if I’ve seen a kid at that level that has the vision that that kid’s got. A lot of times, he just doesn’t get hit. Nobody puts a finger on him on some of those plays. When you can hand off to a guy who, at any point, can break it ... I don’t think we had that.”
Garcia versus the legends
Any conversation concerning the greatest high school running backs to come out of Racine has to start with former Park greats Brent Moss and Johnny Clay, both of whom starred at Wisconsin. Moss was second-team All-America and MVP of the Big Ten Conference and Rose Bowl during the 1993 season. Clay was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2009.
How does Garcia stack up against Moss and Clay statistically? Here’s a few tidbits:
In 30 games for Park, Clay averaged 9.3 yards per carry. In 33 games, Moss averaged 8.5. Garcia’s average per carry through 24 games at Horlick is 10.5.
Clay finished his high school career with 53 touchdowns — the same number Garcia has. Moss finished with 76 touchdowns at Park.
Clay averaged 167.2 rushing yards at Park. Moss averaged 141.9. Garcia’s average is 146.5.
A true leader
When Horlick center Nick Nelson suffered a knee injury against Park Sept. 15, it was initially thought he was lost for the season. It would have been a devastating blow for the Rebels, but Nelson missed just two games before returning for the Franklin showdown last week.
Any Horlick offensive lineman will tell you Nelson is their leader. So will Fletcher, who recalls assigning each of his players to diagram a few plays at home to test their grasp of the playbook.
What did Nelson do?
“Nick did the entire playbook,” Fletcher said.
That means, Fletcher said, that Nelson drew up about 100 plays using 20 pieces of paper.
“He’s as knowledgeable as any coach on the staff,” Fletcher said. “It was a lot of work for him, but Nick cares that much and that’s obviously why he’s as good as he is.”