River Valley reached the playoffs last season for the first time since 2001. Graduation losses and a difficult schedule could make repeating that feat a challenge.

“We’re definitely in a rebuild year,” River Valley coach Jason McDonnough said. “We lost nine seniors on a team of 20. We’re still struggling with numbers. We’ve got some talented kids, but we’re definitely young.”

The Mustangs were 5-5 last season. They’ll be playing an independent schedule, as many of their Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference rivals are now members of the Southwest Michigan Eight-Man Football League.

“We’re going to be playing bigger schools,” McDonnough said. “One year of success, we raised the bar so to speak.”

River Valley has four seniors on the roster, and they’ll be counted on to lead the team in the trenches.

Cooper Harrington starts at center, Ty Daniels plays guard, Tim Hollingsworth is a tackle and Connor Brown lines up at tight end.

“I would stay our strength would be in the offensive line,” McDonnough said.

The Mustangs will continue to line up in their straight-T offense. They will look to a pair of juniors, halfback Drew Holub and fullback A.J. Forker, to lead the running game. Both saw some varsity action last season.

Freshman Eli Thomas will start at quarterback.

“We’re going to stick the ground as much as we can, but we will throw a little bit just to keep the defense honest,” McDonnough said.

Defensively, the Mustangs will look to their linebackers to lead the way. Holub will be joined by fellow juniors Braxton Schroeder and Kevin Siefert.

The four seniors — Harrington, Daniels, Hollingsworth and Brown — will anchor the defensive line.

Forker will start at safety, and sophomore Daniel Vollman plays cornerback.

“We’ve got some speed,” McDonnough said. “I think we’ll be pretty athletic defensively. I’m just worried about our depth on both sides of the ball.”

McDonnough is hopeful the Mustangs can reach the playoffs again, but said it’s too early to tell how realistic that goal is.

River Valley is also hoping to increase its numbers and keep an 11-man program as many of its rivals switch to the eight-man game.

“We would prefer to stay 11-man,” McDonnough said. “We’ll see what the future holds. I think we’ve got some pretty decent numbers coming up. We’re working on building the program. I think once people see the success this system can bring, I think we’ll start to see more participation.”

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