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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

2021 Preview: Carlisle Thundering Herd

Coach: Brett Ickes

Classification: 6A

League/division: Mid-Penn Conference/Commonwealth Division

2020 record: 3-3, 2-3 in Division

Postseason: Did not quality


Passing: Comp-Att., Yards, TD

Ezeekai Thomas: 15-62, 162, 1

Rushing: Att-Yards., Avg., TD

Ezeekai Thomas: 88-453, 5.1., 3

Receiving: Rec.-Yards, Avg., TD

Matt Trollinger: 5-47, 9.4., 0

KEY PLAYERS: Ezeekai Thomas, jr., QB-DB-OLB-ATH; Matt Trollinger, sr., WR-SS; Jeremiah Hargrove , so., DB; Eli Hargrove, so., DB; Eli Carothers, sr., LG; Layton Schmick, jr., C.

OUTLOOK: When head coach Brett Ickes talks about the talent he has assembled for this season, he can’t help but remember Carlisle’s 2004 team, which went 12-2, took second in the Commonwealth and won a pair of district playoff games against Cumberland Valley and Wilson. Their star player that season, Clem Johnson, got the headlines and took up most of the spotlight, but Ickes was quick to point out how many good players were around Johnson, as he rattled off names from 15 years ago as if it was yesterday. Ickes believes he could have a really good squad under his watch this season, perhaps comparable to the 2004 outfit. We’re not ready to call the current version of Carlisle THAT good just yet, but with an electric athlete in Ezeekai Thomas under center, a strong o-line that collectively tips the scales at nearly 1,000 pounds and a core group of players that has been competitive since early elementary school, it’s not out of the question for the Herd to finish in the top half of the Commonwealth, if not higher.


1. A winning history
Don’t be shocked when experts and division coaches alike pick the Thundering Herd to finish in the bottom half of the Commonwealth this season. It comes with the territory when you’re the smallest school in the division. But this season Carlisle — which hasn’t posted a winning record since 2005 — will be led by a core group of players that have yet to experience a losing season. And these guys have been playing together since Peewees. “I’m not sure if they won the Super Bowl as Peewees, but they went deep into the playoffs,” Ickes said. “They did well as Ponies, too, and won the Super Bowl decisively as Midgets. When they played as ninth-graders, they lost two games. These kids are just very, very competitive. They don’t like to lose.” Some of that swagger carried into last fall, when Carlisle went 3-3 in a COVID-shortened season. A .500 record might not seem that impressive, but take a closer look. In addition to wins over Chambersburg, Cedar Cliff and CD East, the Herd came within a touchdown of Cumberland Valley and played within nine points of State College, one of the Commonwealth’s stronger teams in recent years. “The Commonwealth is a Top 5 conference in the state, year after year,” Ickes said. “It’s a gauntlet that we have to go through every year as the smallest team. It is what it is. We’re ready to go after it.”

2. All eyes on EZ
There’s a buzz in the Carlisle football world about Ezeekai Thomas, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior who starred in the secondary last season and also gave the Herd some promising reps on the other side of the ball as a QB. The one they call EZ, pronounced “easy,” can accelerate, make defenders miss and navigate his way through traffic. Ickes tells us that Thomas is a year older, wiser, stronger, faster, and apparently, more versatile. Thomas will not only line up behind center for Carlisle this season, but he could also see time as a running back and wide receiver as well. “He’s an electric player who has worked on his skills, especially as a passer,” Ickes said. “We also have Louie Shank, who is a very good quarterback himself, so there might be a couple times where you see EZ lining up out there as a receiver, running back or wherever we need him.” Every opponent will be scouting No. 4 and dedicating resources to stopping him. With Thomas drawing so much attention, that should make things easier — or shall we say Ezier — for a supporting cast that has plenty of talent itself. Matt Trollinger is back as a receiver, and he’ll be catching passes alongside newcomer Josh “DC” Zipperer, a 6-foot-3 stud who moved to the area with his military family to Carlisle through the U.S. Army War College. The Hargrove brothers, Jeremiah and Eli, started as freshman cornerbacks last year and will “help us on offense” this fall, Ickes said. Tight ends Terrence Steele and Quentin Barclay each stand at 6-foot-3 and will make for nice targets in the short passing game.

3. O-line marches forward
With linemen Jeremiah Carothers, Christian Good and Austin Coldren paving the way last year, Carlisle was able to churn out nearly 1,600 rushing yards in six games. The only problem for the Herd this fall is that Carothers is at Shippensburg University, Good is at Thiel, and Coldren is serving his country in the Marine Corps. The graduation losses would normally be devastating for any team in the Commonwealth, where games are won and lost in the trenches, but Ickes has good reason to believe that the 2021 offensive line can be even stronger than it was last year. Thomas Nelson, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound junior, has found his killer instinct and looks to be a mainstay on the line. Eli Carothers (6-0, 235), who Ickes says is very disciplined and the strongest kid on the team, will likely man the left guard spot. Returning starter junior Layton Schmick (6-2, 280) will give the Herd a large presence at the center position, while senior Hayden Mohr (6-1, 250) and junior Charlie Dib (6-0, 230) round out the offensive line. Look for Kyle Kaczynski (6-0, 250) to work his way into the rotation, as well. “We’re pretty much just reloading,” Ickes said. “They’re going to be really good, I think. They can be even better than last year, even.”

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