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Turning it around: Casper leading playoff-hungry Chalker

October 24, 2013
By MATTHEW PEASLEE - Tribune Chronicle (sports@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

SOUTHINGTON - The numbers, alone, show the improvement Chalker quarterback Austin Casper has made from last year to this year.

"He had more interceptions than touchdown passes," Wildcats coach Ryan Slone said.

Now, Casper has seven touchdowns with just three interceptions.

"I'm just a lot more confident and experienced," Casper said. "I grew a lot as a player from my junior season to my senior season."

He's thrown for 608 yards, completing 49 of 113 passes. In last week's 30-27 win over Mathews, Casper had 129 yards passing with three touchdown passes of 18, 19 and 35 yards. His 19-yard pass to Travis Lehman, followed by a two-point conversion pass to Justin Len, sealed the win with less than 2 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

For his performance, Casper is the Tribune Chronicle's Player of the Week.

"It was back and forth all the way through," he said. "We just kept working hard, it was a team effort all the way through. The receivers were working real hard, the line protected me great.

"We persevered and it was one of the best games we had played all year."

Chalker led 15-7 at halftime, but Mathews scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, while the Wildcats were shutout. A 15-point fourth quarter lifted them to victory.

"It was thrilling and exciting," Casper said.

Casper credits much of his improvement leading the offense to new quarterbacks coach Kevin Swiger.

"He's really worked on my fundamentals and reads," Casper said.

Chalker coach Ryan Slone admits there were bumps in his development in 2012, a season where the Wildcats went 4-6. His growth has been remarkable, though, Slone says.

"He took his licks last year," Slone said. "But he's grown as a vocal leader on and off the field. His performance and all-around game is much more polished."

So is the play of the Wildcats. Just two years ago, Chalker went 3-6. In 2010, it was 0-8. The Wildcats are currently seventh in the OHSAA computer ratings in Division VII, Region 23.

One goal for Chalker was to turn the program in the right direction.

"First it started in the offseason," Casper said. "We were lifting in the morning and after school. We were running and staying conditioned. Once the season started we all were staying focused. Studying film is a big thing. We're watching a lot more game film than we did in the past."

Another goal was to be Northeastern Athletic Conference champions. Two more wins, over Windham and Pymatuning Valley, can do that. In turn, a third goal would be reached.

"We want to make the playoffs," Casper said. "We knew it would take seven or eight wins, but we can give it a good shot if we finish out the season with two more wins."

The Bombers are 2-5, and the Wildcats are 5-3.

"We're going to keep doing what we're doing," Casper said. "We're not looking past anybody - we haven't all year. We're working just as hard as we did in the offseason."

Winning, alone, has bred a new mantra for Casper and the Wildcats.

"It's huge for confidence," he said. "You believe a lot more in what you're doing. You believe you can actually win each game

"You do have more to play for in the fact we want to be there for one more week in Week 11 and maybe even further. There's still so much to play for with just two weeks left in the regular season."