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Concord and Goshen football await tough NLC slate

ELKHART COUNTY, Ind. -- Most football teams in Michiana begin the fall season with high expectations – and it’s no different in the Northern Lakes Conference.

Concord and Goshen – separated by about 15 minutes drive – met for a sectional championship a year ago with the Minutemen taking the title just weeks after they narrowly missed out on a NLC title.

However, both of these teams know that it’s a new year.

“When you evaluate and look back on a year and have some hardware to show for it, it means something to the kids and the community,” said Concord coach Craig Koehler. “But nothing we did last year is going to have any impact on this year.”

While Concord will try to stay near the top, Goshen will try to bounce back after a tough regular season last year. The Redhawks won just a single game, but picked up a postseason win to advance to that sectional title game.

Though Goshen coach Kyle Park expects to see improvement in 2018, he knows the NLC is going to be another tough road.

“It’s going to be very competitive again. We’re excited to be a part of it. It’s a great conference,” said Redhawks coach Kyle Park. “There’s so much parity in the conference and every Friday night is a challenge.”

After just three days of practice, they’re still feeling out their squads, but there isn’t much time to get players up to speed with just over two weeks until Week One.

“That’s the hard part. You do some stuff in the summer to start the installation process, but they may miss a day here and there in the summer,” said Park. “You have to go back and cover the basics again to make sure everyone’s on the same page as we progress.”

But because of the changes in practice schedules in recent years, the overall football season has expanded even though the window right before the opener has shrunk.

While that makes it easier to keep players focused, Koehler said he’s on the fence with the direction it’s going.

“It’s almost getting to the point where you can legally put helmets and pads on in June,” he said. “That’s about six months in helmets and shoulder pads. I just think we’ve got to be careful as coaches to make sure we’re doing things the right way and making sure we’re not getting to the point where it becomes a true year-round thing. You’ve got to be really careful in the summer with how you manage your kids and their time.”

But through the positives and negatives of changing practice seasons, the focus now is on the coming campaign.

Concord graduated a large senior class from the 2017 team, but now will lean on a new group of veterans.

“We’ve got a class of 23 seniors and it’s their turn,” Koehler said. “We’ve got some kids who have been good players but haven’t played a lot of Friday night snaps, so we’ve got to find out. We’ve got a bunch of guys in that mode, so we’ll be a little inexperienced early but I like the makeup of our team. We’ll see how we do.”

As for Goshen, it will be a season built on the growth of young talent. While last season may not have gone the way they wanted, Park believes things are heading in the right direction with what he’s seen to date.

“We’ve got a lot of young players proving themselves right now,” he said. “It’s still early and we’ve got a lot of improving to do but I like the progress we’ve made so far.”

Goshen will start the 2018 season at home against Fairfield, while Concord hosts SB St. Joe in its opener. The two will meet on September 14.

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