Playoffs just the beginning
Bobcats hope ‘04 season serves as launching pad
In reality, high school football is heartbreaking for about 99 percent of its participants.
Of all the tens of thousands of prep football athletes and coaches in Kansas, only 30-60 will feel the heights of romance with their sport at the end of the year -- the state champions in each division.
So it was with this clear perception that Basehor-Linwood High School football coach Steve Hopkins looked back at his team's season and declared that he, his coaches and his players were not satisfied with the Bobcats' season.
"Not at all," Hopkins said. "But that's because we have high expectations. Only one team meets all its goals every year and every other team shares in the disappointment. We have to value what we achieved, while at the same time continuing to strive."
While pleased with a late playoff run sparked by strong district play, Hopkins realizes that making the playoffs is just the first step, and that the Bobcats still have plenty of progress to make before they can reach the level of 4A contenders like Tonganoxie or Topeka Hayden.
"I don't think the top 30 teams (in 4A) are that much different in terms of talent," Hopkins said. "But I think the top 15 have an attitude of expectations and a confidence that separates them from the others. I think the two go hand-in-hand. That's our goal, that's our focus -- creating a championship way to play and a championship way to practice."
Reflecting back on the season, Hopkins acknowledged that the biggest gains the team made this season came after the Bobcats' biggest loss of the year, a 55-14 loss to Tonganoxie. He also gave much of the credit for those gains to the Bobcats talented senior corps of Michael Armstrong, Tim Brownlee, Josh Ishmael, Seth Lashbrook, Jayce Proctor, and Kyle Speichinger.
When remembering the week of practice after the Tonganoxie loss, Hopkins stated, "I appreciate so much that when the season was on the brink, their attitude made the difference. That meant sacrifice. I asked the kids to do without the glory and accept some of the grunt work and they did it willingly and without complaint. That was the turning point. Several of them, like Kyle Speichinger, demonstrated the right way to prepare. They challenged each other -- and not just verbally. They lined up next to the younger players and showed, 'This is the way we get things done.' We gained ground when things were starting to crumble."
After the team banquet this week, Hopkins can begin turning his attention to next year and changing his game plan somewhat.
"Losing Michael (Armstrong) means we will change some of what we're doing," Hopkins said. "What we did with him we might not do next year. We might try different things."
When asked for specifics of who might step up their play next year, Hopkins was not short of qualified candidates.
"I think Alex Smith was poised to be a dominant defensive lineman in our league," said Hopkins of the 6-foot-1, 255-pound junior. "His ankle and leg injuries hobbled him much at the end of the year, but I know the coaches in our league recognized what a force he can be."
Junior running back Will Peterson will return for his senior year, trying to improve on a season in which he racked up five 100-yard games and played almost everywhere on defense.
"Will took a much bigger role on defense," Hopkins said. "We asked him to make sacrifices and he's the type of kid who's not in it for the glory. We asked him to play out of position and he did it -- no questions asked."
Brian Marshall was the next junior Hopkins listed.
"We switched Brian Marshall to linebacker in the middle of the season and had him learn on the fly and he adjusted," Hopkins said. "Of course, he had a good role model with Josh Ishmael helping him learn the position."
Hopkins next acknowledged three freshmen who will have to become impact players in their sophomore years -- Ethan Douglas, Swede Johnson, and Jacob Schierbaum.
"Those three will be key contributors next year and were this year," Hopkins said. "We're going to have to continue to have tremendous contribution out of next year's sophomore class."
The playoff run has ended. The banquet food is getting warmed up. And the Bobcats yet again begin preparations to strive for a title and avoid heartbreak.