Cougars’ next step is playoffs

Superior Central brings key skill players back after 4-5 campaign a year ago

Members of the 2018 Superior Central Cougars football are Roubens Fink, Lucas Kanerva, Jack Rondeau, Clayton Collier, Ethan Pizzi, Beau Rondeau, James Maki, DJ Johns, Devin Kearney, Noah Groulx, Collin Burnett, Nathan Frusti, Caleb Nimee, Kaeden Weir, Kyle Frusti, Raymond Robinson and Zach Bukowski. The team is coached by Sam Eggleston. (Photo courtesy Diane Laakso Groulx)

EBEN JUNCTION — The focus in Marquette County this year may be on the 11-player programs, but there is also some eight-player action going on in the area with the Superior Central Cougars putting a quality product on the field.

The Cougars took a big step last year, showing a lot of improvement and came close to earning a playoff spot. SC head coach Sam Eggleston liked what he saw in his second season as sideline boss.

“We were pretty happy with last season,” he said. “Obviously, we would’ve preferred a winning record, but in the end, I thought we were probably the best 4-5 team in the entire state for eight-man.

“We probably would’ve done OK in the first couple of playoff games if we would’ve had a chance. So we were pretty happy with how it went.

“Unfortunately, the playoff race didn’t add up for us, so we’re looking to rectify that this year.”

SC may have lost a couple key players, but the backfield still looks strong with Beau Rondeau taking snaps for the third straight year at quarterback. Rondeau will have a solid running back to help out with carries in Roubens Fink, an All-Upper Peninsula First Team selection last year.

“Beau’s shifty, intelligent and he’s really a competitor at every level,” Eggleston said. “He really knows how to run the offense for me. Roubens was All-U.P. last year so we expect a repeat performance.

“He had around 1,400 yards rushing and we’re probably going to feature him a little bit more than we have in the past. Just so we can use his speed to break things open for us.

As far as wide receivers go, there’s not a lot experience, but there is potential.

“At receiver, we don’t have anyone returning that has started there before, but we do have a couple of guys that we feel will be able to perform out there,” the coach said. “When we do go into passing plays, we’re also going to feature Roubens in the slot.”

If the Cougars have a weakness, it’s on the offensive line, simply due to the fact that they lost a number of experienced players.

“The line is really shaky this year as we had to replace our graduates from last year,” Eggleston said. “We’re experimenting and trying to find the right combination of guys.

“We had a scrimmage and we just got out of it and we didn’t look so hot on the line. So we have to look at it again with Week 1 coming up here.

“We have a third-year starter in Noah Groulx and he was honorable mention All-U.P. linebacker as well. He’s a pulling guard and he’s really the captain of everybody there and directs all the traffic.”

SC only has 17 players this year, so most players will be expected to play on both offense and defense. On the defensive side of the ball, Eggleston said Groulx, Fink and D.J. Johns will be key players.

While there was some major shifting at the 11-man level in the U.P. with the creation of a now much-larger West PAC, there is also a new eight-man conference, the Great Lakes Eight, that the Cougars will play in this fall.

“We’re in the East Division so that puts us up against teams that we haven’t seen in quite a few years,” Eggleston said. “So we’re going up against Pickford, Cedarville, Rudyard, Brimley, Engadine and Rapid River. So out of all those teams, only Brimley didn’t make the playoffs last year.

“Our crossover games with the West are against Forest Park and Ontonagon, both teams who made the playoffs, and Forest Park was the state champs. So we’re expecting it to be more difficult than in years past.”

Two weeks into practice, Eggleston thought things were adding up nicely on both sides of the ball.

“Defensively, I think we’ve found the right combination of guys and the formula is looking good,” he said. “We’re really aggressive, so we’re looking good there. Offensively, it’s just a matter of getting the blocking down. We should be pretty dangerous again.

“Last year, we put up almost 4,000 yards rushing, so we’re hoping to eclipse that if we can get everything rolling the right way.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.