FREDERICKTOWN — To say the Fredericktown Freddies have a strong offensive attack is an understatement. After all, they racked up 2,100 yards on the ground and another 1,720 through the air this season.
One of Fredericktown’s strengths, offensively, is how diverse it is. The Freddies, who will host Caldwell in the opening round of the Division V playoffs on Friday night, can give the ball to as many as seven different players and not miss a beat. With such a strong, experienced core, led by senior Thomas Hinkle and junior C.J. Ruhl, the Freddies cause havoc to opposing coaches and players.
Coming off an 8-2 season a year ago, the Freddies missed the playoffs, which left them wanting more when the 2009 season rolled around. The end result was an unblemished 10-0 record and Mid-Buckeye Conference title.
“This year, we had a lot of experience coming back,” said Hinkle. “Last year was a learning experience, but we proved to ourselves we could win some games and make an impact.”
A large part of the Freddies’ success can be attributed directly to Hinkle, and at times, indirectly to Ruhl. The two captains have been the heart and soul of the Freddies for the last two years, along with co-captains Austin Hoeflich and Jordan Levering, and their chemistry has helped the Freddies go.
“It is great when you have kids that have chemistry,” said Fredericktown coach Luke Beal. “That’s something we try to emphasize to our team overall. You have to be able to trust each other and have confidence in each other, so that in clutch situations, you know the kids will come through. C.J. and Thomas have that. They’ve been playing together since pee-wee football. They are used to each other, and know they are going to be there for each other. Once you’ve got that, in clutch situations, you can put the ball in their hands and let them go with it. Those guys have done that the last two years over and over and over. As a coach, I know they will consistently come through for us.”
“This group of guys has been playing together since the fifth grade, and we know each other inside out,” Ruhl said. “We hang out all the time, not just here.”
Hinkle, running the offense from the quarterback spot — the heart if you will — is at the center of everything Fredericktown does. Ruhl, who plays tailback and slot receiver, helps provide the soul of the Freddies’ attack. The combination and chemistry of the two has made a difference, game in and game out.
“Thomas is a great athlete; you name it, he can do it,” said Ruhl. “We spend a lot of time together and know each other pretty well. ... Most of the time, we know what each other is thinking.”
“Ever since the sixth grade, he has been my go-to guy and he knows that,” said Hinkle. “We can both look at the defense and then look at each other, and I will know exactly what he is going to run. For example, the last play against Loudonville. He had a cornerback tight up on him, so I knew he was going to run deep to the end zone, so I put it up in the back of the end zone and he came down with it. It is a lot about timing and the relationship we have.
“In a tight game, since he is my go-to guy, I can always count on him for a big catch. Even if I don’t throw the ball perfect, he go up, get up and make a great effort for it. That helps my confidence a lot, knowing that I have somebody that will do that.”
The Freddies took a hit, both literally and figuratively, this season when Ruhl went down with an injury. At first, the Freddies weren’t sure what to think.
“When it first happened, it looked worse than it ended up being,” said Beal. “We were afraid it was a knee injury, and from the sideline that’s what it looked like. We took a real deep breath and hoped he would be OK.”
“My first reaction was, ‘I hope I didn’t blow out my knee,’ because if I blew out my knee, I knew I wouldn’t be able to come back,” said Ruhl. “When I found out it was just my ankle, coach Beal and I talked about it and waited a couple of weeks. I took my time coming back. ... It was really tough just to watch. I was always trying to get into the game.”
While Ruhl was out, several other of his Freddie teammates stepped up and filled the void. The result was the Freddies not missing a beat.
“The one sign of a good football team is that when you have an injury like that, other guys step up,” said Beal. “We were fortunate; we had a freshman, Matt Smith, come in and he picked it right up. He is talented enough that he would start for a lot of teams. He gave us a great change of pace. We were fortunate for that. You can’t allow yourself to get caught up in injuries because they are a part of the game. They are going to happen.
“It was a tough point in our season. I was really pleased with the way our guys responded.”
“His injury didn’t impact us a whole lot because of the depth we have,” said Hinkle. “Losing C.J., obviously, was big to our team, but we had other guys step up. Freshman Matt Smith came in and played some of the best weeks of his life there when C.J. was out. We tried to run the same stuff and stay balanced.
“I tried to step up my play because a big part of our rushing attack was C.J. I knew we had a younger kid in there in Matt, and he wouldn’t make as many big plays as C.J., so I tried to do what I could do to help keep the team moving.”
Beal had to balance Ruhl’s desire to play with the medical side of his injury. He knew how important Ruhl would be down the stretch, with games against Utica and Loudonville still to come. He was also getting great efforts out of the other players on the team.
“He is the type of kid that wanted to come back right away,” said Beal. “It was a struggle with him because he is such a competitor; he wanted to play right away. We had to talk to him and ease him back in. He played a little against Johnstown, and he wasn’t even close to 100 percent. Then we were at East Knox, and we phased him in defensively, but he still wasn’t 100 percent. I think it was the Utica game where we really started using him more and more.
“We try to emphasize that everybody has a role on the team, and when C.J. came back , everybody understood what we were trying to accomplish. It seemed like it was pretty seamless as he worked back in. There may have been some things going on behind the scenes that I was unaware of, but it seemed liked the kids handled it really well.”
Even when Ruhl began to work his way back into the lineup, it wasn’t an immediate impact, which was fine with Ruhl.
“Because Matt and Austin (Hoeflich) were running the ball so good, we didn’t just want to just rip them out of the offense completely,” said Hinkle. “We tried to work them in and keep him rushing the ball because he is an impact player, but at the same time, we wanted to work C.J. back in. We knew at the end of the year, we needed him for some big plays.”
“I love it when we win,” said Ruhl. “I don’t care who gets the credit as long as we get the W.”
Now back to 100 percent, the Freddies seem to be back where they were early in the season with two exceptions — they are even deeper and have the confidence to overcome whatever comes their way.
Caldwell is the next stepping stone they must overcome.
“We’ve got to take it one game at a time, and focus on Caldwell,” said Ruhl. “We’ve got to play our game and execute. ... This group, when we came back in December, we were all hungry after missing the playoffs. We wanted to get back into the playoffs and now, we want to make a nice run again.”
“We are really wanting to prove to everybody that we are the real deal,” Hinkle said. “There has been talk that we are the weakest No. 1 seed because of our schedule strength, so we just want to go out there and hammer Caldwell. We want to play our best.
“(Playing at home) is huge, and it means a lot to the seniors. We get to have won more final game at home. It is going to be a great atmosphere.”