Elkhart Elks Look to Get Back Into Playoffs in 2016

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

ELKHART – District 9-3A DI will be hotly contested in 2016. There are eight teams in the district and only four of them will make the cut for the playoffs. The Elkhart Elks are looking to snag one of those playoff spots in 2016 and just missing the playoffs in 2015.

Athletic Director/Head Coach Sam Wells said he was expecting big things this year and had quite a few key players returning to help put the Elks back in the playoffs.

“We have a lot of kids coming back. We have 16 returners all together with five on offense and seven on defense. Just off the top of my head, we have: DJ Williams is a returning all-state linebacker, Johnathan Simmons who plays a little bit of everything, Alex Thlang at linebacker, Justin Wolford at DB and WR, Will Dehart on the offensive line, Trent Huff at WR/DB, Gavin Defore on the line, Ross Rampey at defensive end, Justin Davis at WR/DE and CJ Whitaker at WR/DB,” he said.

“Last year, we lost four of five games by a touchdown or less and that was tough to swallow. We were very close to being a 9-1 football team. The big deal this year is finishing. We started out 5-1 and ended up 5-5. Obviously that’s not how you want to end up,” Coach Wells said.

Offensively, the Elks will run out of the gun once again.

“We did well with it through the first seven games, but in the last three, it was non-existent. We’re going back to what we did well. At QB, both Johnathan Simmons and Hunter Bush will get snaps. Simmons is a kid we’ll move around some, where Bush is still more of a traditional style quarterback. Both of them throw the football really well.”

At running back, Wells said his primary backs will be Simmons and DJ Williams.

“He (Williams) is a tremendous athlete and a load to bring down. He’s very fast. We really have very good team speed for us. We have lots of kids who run a 4.7 (in the 40) – I think it might be around 15. WE probably have more team speed overall than we’ve had in a while.”

Defensively, the coach said one area the Elks need to shore up is at the defensive end position.

“We have our linebackers coming back and we’re good in the secondary and defensive tackles, but we need to find some kids who can play outside,” he said.

“We’re ranked as one of the toughest districts in the state. Teague, Malakoff and West all had double digit wins and everyone except Eustace was 5-5 or better. When seven of the eight teams are .500 or better, that’s a pretty strong, competitive district. Every week is going to be a dogfight, but I’d put us in the mix against anybody. Malakoff has a lot of kids returning from last year and Teague has solid kids coming back. Of course, Groesbeck is coming down from 4A. West had a great year and Whitney has been solid. Westwood has really improved and Eustace was a TD away from beating Malakoff last year,” Wells said.

HOW I SEE IT: With eight returning starts on offense and five on defense, look for the Malakoff Tigers to reign supreme. Teague will finish second in district play and both teams will make a deep playoff run. The Westwood Panthers continue to improve and will build on last year’s playoff appearance to make a return trip to the postseason. Look for the Elks to regain their postseason swagger in 2016. More than likely they will come out of the three or four hole and will have a tough matchup in round one. However, if they survive and move into the area round, look for Elkhart to make a bit of noise and upset a team or two. Given their tough non-district and district schedules, the Elks will be ready to take on anyone who comes their way in November.