MILDRED — —
Anyone looking for answers as to why Mildred is back in the state semifinals for a second straight season need search any further than the wide receivers.
One group basically out, a new one in. An all-state receiver and a two-year starter departed, four receivers combining for 1,984 yards in their place.
It’s the mark of a great program that wins year in and year out — reloading at a position that gets decimated by graduation. Standouts such as Daniel Folsom, Daniel Donoho and Mason Rose move on, the quartet of Mike Muncy, Raleigh Seilheimer, Johnathan Harrison and Jase Butler steps in.
“We knew a lot people were going to underestimate us,” said Muncy, the junior slot receiver that leads the Eagles with 37 catches, 742 yards and 10 touchdowns. “Before the season, me and Raleigh talked each other up and said we can do it. We’ve done a good job of filling Donoho and Folsom’s spots.”
As a group the Eagles’ wideouts have averaged 475 receiving yards for the season. Harrison, a senior who plays outside receiver, has 26 receptions for 520 yards and nine touchdowns. Seilheimer, a slot receiver and also a junior, has 33 receptions for 383 yards and six TDs. Butler, who plays on the outside and is yet another junior, has 21 receptions for 255 yards.
They all admit it’s been a growing process.
For instance, the speed of the game has been an adjustment, Seilheimer said. Catching passes from senior quarterback Nic Shimonek, who throws a beautiful but also lethal spiral that pops into your hands, isn’t easy.
Each receiver has picked things up at different intervals. Seilheimer said his moment came in Mildred’s 70-22 loss to Centerville in the second game of the season. He said the game was a “wakeup call.”
“I came into it blind since I wasn’t on varsity last year,” Seilheimer said. “It wasn’t the offense or the plays, it was catching Nic’s passes because he doesn’t throw very soft,” a line that got a chuckle out of the other receivers.
It has helped that Shimonek has now started four seasons worth of games. Shimonek, who has verbally committed to Iowa, is closing in on 8,000 passing yards for his career.
That’s a lot of experience to offer a group that has only one returning starter — Butler. Muncy played defense last year and Seilheimer was on the junior varsity. Harrison saw limited action on varsity.
“They came in and learned the offense and figured out what we were trying to do,” said Shimonek, who has passed for 2,380 yards and 32 TDs in 13 games this season. “It’s hard to get a lot of reps when you have seniors in front of you. Everyone has really stepped up and learned their roles really quickly.”
They had Shimonek there to push them. A fierce competitor, Shimonek will get in your face if you drop a pass or run the wrong route. He’ll offer advice, encouragement, some tough love too. But the receivers know he’ll always come back to them.
“At the beginning of the season he would lose it,” Muncy said. “Now we know how he’s going to handle it and now he just talks to us. Johnny’s done the best job of not letting it get into his head. Now he uses it as motivation and he blocks harder or runs a better route.”
The Eagles’ receiving corps has the respect of their offensive teammates because they’ve grown into reliable pass catchers, and because they can block. Mildred, with a reputation as a passing team, averages 284.2 yards per game on the ground.
“It definitely takes the pressure off the receivers that we run it so well,” Harrison said.
They work on their blocking tirelessly, usually on Mondays and Tuesdays during practice.
“We do a lot of blocking during the game,” Butler said. “So we work on turning defenders in or outside depending on what they play calls for.
“We recognize it’s an important part of what we do.”
The Eagles have 65 rushing TDs. Draylon Sterling has a long of 79 yards. Shimonek of 78 yards. Jeremy Ballard a 55-yard run.
Mildred coach Patrick Harvell points out a block by Harrison in last week’s 45-35 victory over Nocona. It came on a pass play and got Ballard loose for a 53-yard touchdown reception.
“This group is very scrappy,” Harvell said. “It’s not all about catching passes. They’re blocking really well down field. It’s one of the reasons why we have had huge success in the running game. They take great pride in that.”
The Eagles also pride themselves in being an offense that takes what the defense gives them. Last week Nocona stacked the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Shimonek passed for 208 yards on eight completions.
And as the Eagles get deeper in the playoffs and the games get closer, there may come a time — say in a two-minute drill — where they have to pass it to win or tie a game.
The receivers say they can do it. They remember a well run two-minute drill against Rice.
Time served this season has convinced this group that they can produce when it matters most.
“There’s no doubt,” Muncy said. “We’ve had a couple of chances where the game hasn’t depended on the two-minute drill, but we started practicing it in case it did matter.
“We can do it.”