For the first time since the first year of the Joe Palka era, the Saline football team enters the season without a lot of hype.
Nobody in Michigan high school football circles is pegging the Hornets as a threat to go to Ford Field. And coach Palka and the Hornets don’t mind that a bit.
“Our goal is to prove some people wrong and it’s kind of nice to be in that position once in awhile,” Palka said after the Hornets concluded the first on-field practice session of the season Monday on the grass outside Hornet Stadium.
Outside expectations aren’t what they’ve been in the past.
“You look at the amount of seniors we’ve lost, all the young guys in new positions, and see that we don’t have an established quarterback – all those things have lowered expectations outside our locker room,” Palka said. “But we still have the same expectations.”
The Saline football team’s goals are perennial. They want to win the SEC, which would be their fifth straight, and want to compete for the state championship.
“We’re a team that is going to have to play with a chip on our shoulder and I’m starting to see that from this group,” Palka said.
Right out of the gate the Hornets will be tested.
Saline opens with home games against Chippewa Valley and Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Then the team visits Ypsilanti Lincoln before returning home to open the SEC Red schedule against Bedford.
“Those first four games we have are probably the toughest start we’ve ever had, so it’s a big challenge,” Palka said. “One thing it does is give us a sense of urgency. Kids look at it an know there’s no bye week and no Canadian team or easy wins. We’re playing great teams, so we can’t waste a single opportunity to get better. We need some urgency in getting everyone up to speed and maturing quickly.”
But while those opening games are important, Palka doesn’t want his young team to lose sight of the bigger picture.
“Whether we start 2-0 or 0-2 doesn’t mean we’re necessarily a good team or bad team. We need to keep the focus on getting better each week,” Palka said.
The Hornets came into the year expecting Andrew Arbaugh and Logan Evans to compete for the starting quarterback job. Evans has decided to focus on baseball. Arbaugh is being challenged by CJ Kraft and Kyle Greenwood. It’s a three-way competition, but Arbaugh who saw action with varsity last year, is the most experienced behind center.
“Andrew is in the number one spot. He’s been waiting in the wings. He’s smaller, but he’s a good decision maker who has repped a ton,” Palka said. “He’s good decision maker with a good arm. He just needs experience. He’s looked good and made strong progress over the last two weeks.”
Powerful running back Brendan Munday returns for his third season on varsity.
The offensive line will be green. All of the starters graduated. Noah Ayers and Chase Hartley saw some second string duty last year and are now the veterans on the O-Line.
In addition, the team has nearly an all new receiving core. Tight end Brendan Murphy is the lone returning starter.
On defense, the team won’t be as big – but the Hornets have some players.
Big Brad Wisniewski will be returning starter on the defensive line, where he’ll be joined by Jonah Ashby. The team should be strong at linebacker, where 3-year starter Connor Terech starts along with second-year varsity player Alex Morrison, moving up from safety.
MJ Griffin, committed to Temple, gives the Hornets big play capability at cornerback.