BLANCHARD — Shaun Balhorn has been to the Michigan High School Athletic Association football playoffs before.
That was in 2004 during Balhorn’s first run as head coach of the Montabella Mustangs football program. Now, Balhorn is back on the varsity sideline for the first since 2007 after taking over for David Clay, who resigned following the 2013 season.
Balhorn hasn’t been completely gone from the game. He has spent the time in between as the middle school football coach.
“I stepped down for some personal reasons, but have been coaching the middle school team,” Balhorn said. “I really found some enjoyment in teaching the game of football again to kids who wanted to learn it. The opportunity opened up when David resigned. The senior class is the group I started coaching middle school with. It seemed like the right time to come back.”
Excited to be back on the sideline, Balhorn said the program’s numbers are up. That means fielding a full junior varsity team.
“Our numbers are up. We’ve struggled with fielding a junior varsity team the last couple of years,” Balhorn said. “I think that just kills a program, because you lose interest in your lower levels. Our freshman numbers are real high. Our numbers our up and our excitement is up.”
Prior to Monday’s practice, Balhorn spoke to his players about teamwork. How teamwork and unity can bring a program together and can lead to a successful season.
“I’m a big teamwork guy. We do have tons of talent on the varsity,” Balhorn said. “We are athletically gifted in many areas, but I think there have been a lot of teams that have underachieved because they didn’t want to play as a team. Once our guys can buy into team unity and understanding what they can do for the team, I think, together we will be very successful.”
Some of the varsity talent includes Brady Burggren, Joey Durham, Zach Taubitz, Peter Taylor and Dan Cutler. Balhorn is really excited about his offensive line.
“We are really loaded on our offensive line,” he said. “I’m really excited about those guys. They worked really hard in the offseason to stay strong and athletic.”
Because of the talent level, Balhorn said his team is confident heading into the season.
“This senior class moved up as freshman the last time we made the playoffs (9-2 record in 2011),” Balhorn said. “These guys have a little bit of experience. We have a lot of success in other sports that these athletes can draw from too. Every year, the goal is to make the playoffs, but ultimately we are looking at winning game one against Saugatuck.”
As expected with a new coach, the football philosophy will change in areas.
“Offensively, we are going to stick to what we know. We are not going to change our game plan based on what a team runs defensively,” Balhorn said. “Defensively, we are switching to a completely different defense. We spent a lot of time in the spring and summer putting that together.”
Balhorn is also the Mustangs’ wrestling coach. With plenty of wrestlers on the football roster, Balhorm believes the two sports go hand-in-hand.
“If you look at the NFL there is a ton of wrestlers in there. The two sports are very closely knitted,” he said. “If you look around most football programs some of the best players are wrestlers. I have two all-state wrestlers and another state qualifier on the team.”
Montabella will scrimmage on Thursday at Saranac (6 p.m.) and opens the season Aug. 28 at Saugatuck (7 p.m.).
Aug. 28 at Saugatuck
Sept. 5 at Onekema
Sept. 12 vs. Manistee CC
Sept. 19 at Sacred Heart
Sept. 26 vs. Vestaburg
Oct. 3 at CC-Crystal
Oct. 10 at Coleman
Oct. 17 vs. Ashley
Oct. 24 vs. Evart
Note: All games start at 7 p.m. Montabella will scrimmage at Saranac on Thursday at 6 p.m.