MUNSTER —As Jason Grunewald officially began his first season as Munster’s interim head football coach on Friday night during a scrimmage against Portage, his biggest fan sat inside the press box stoically watching over ever move.
Former longtime Munster coach Leroy Marsh did his best to remain conspicuous as a handful of former players and students stopped in the press box during Friday night’s proceedings to have a brief conversation. Marsh greeted each with a smile, but never took his eye off the field as Grunewald guided the Mustangs through an up-and-down performance against the Indians.
As the segments ticked away, Marsh finally grew restless and made his way down to the field where he stood with his arms folded far away from the action. Marsh, who retired in April, said that 2018 marked the first season in 52 years that he wasn’t going to be on the field.
Grunewald, a 2004 Munster graduate who later played college football at Valparaiso before getting into coaching, was thrilled to have Marsh in attendance on Friday night.
“That’s not a relationship that’s going to go away,” Grunewald said. “I’ve known him for more than 20 years, he’s like a second father to me. I’m sure he’s got some advice for me right now. Of course, I’m going to listen to him and then we’ll take it from there.”
Grunewald was named the interim coach in late May and will be reevaluated after the 2018 season.
Portage gets defensive: On a night when both offenses were breaking in new players at key positions, Portage’s defense won the day. The Indians kept Munster out of the end zone until late in the scrimmage when Javaughn Richards hit Dawson Ginaven for a deep touchdown. Until that point it was the speed of Portage’s front seven and the hard-hitting ability of Issac Hegwood that dominated the field.
“Last year we did well on defense with our size, now we’re going to be relying on our speed,” Portage coach Darren Rodriguez said.
One of the key cogs in Portage’s defense is senior linebacker TeAngelo Rayner. Rayner has been playing on varsity since his sophomore year and he led all returners with 79 tackles last season. Rayner was in the middle early and often on Friday night as Portage kept Munster out of the end zone in the first three segments of the scrimmage.
“We know we’ve got to go out there and play with a lot of intensity,” Rayner said. “We have a lot of guys who are motivated to be great. It’s about putting the foot down to the gas pedal and just going all out on every single play.”
Rayner, who plans to study mechanical engineering in college, already has an offer from Robert Morris.
Replacing Maceo: If staying healthy was the top goal of Friday night’s scrimmage for Rodriguez, then continuing to find a replacement for all-everything quarterback Anthony Maceo had to be a close second. Maceo, now a freshman at Valparaiso, threw for 984 yards and 12 touchdowns last season while running for another 1,388 yards and 19 touchdowns.
The Indians might not be able to get all that production from one player this season, but Rodriguez seemingly has some options going forward. Expected starting quarterback Zack Warchus didn’t attend Friday’s scrimmage for undisclosed reasons, but that gave Rodriguez the chance to get a long look at a pair of backups in sophomore Danny Puplava and freshman Tylee Swopes. Puplava hit Cody Taylor on a 41-yard pass that setup a touchdown on Portage’s first drive while Swopes made several dazzling plays with his feet, including a 29-yard run in the third segment. The Portage offense combined to score six touchdowns throughout the night.
“All three of these guys are underclassmen and it was nice to see these guys get the opportunity to go in there and make some plays,” Rodriguez said. “That’s really what tonight is all about.”