Lansing’s triple-threat will be missed
John Tytla was Lions’ do-it-all guy
As football practice began at Lansing High in fall 2003, LHS coach Bill Pekarek had high expectations for then-junior John Tytla to be his primary kicker for field goals and extra points, but a nasty case of mononucleosis got in the way.
Heading into 2004, however, Pekarek had greater visions for a healthy Tytla - visions that involved turning the go-to kicker into his all-around go-to guy.
"I was talking to his dad and told him I was thinking of John as more than just a kicker," Pekarek said. "I was thinking of him as a wide receiver and as a defensive back. I told him I thought he could contribute more than as just a kicker."
It was an idea Tytla embraced immediately.
"It was an eye-opening kind of thing," Tytla said of the opportunity to do more. "It was a wake-up call that I could do more than I was required to do, and it was something I took into consideration, of course, because he said instead of just being a kicker you can turn out to be good for the team (in more areas)."
Tytla hit the weights harder than he ever had before, and Pekarek said his kicker-turned receiver-turned defensive back caught on quickly with all of his new duties. He was the lone bright spot in the Lions' season-opening loss at Tonganoxie when he returned a kickoff 73 yards for Lansing's only score of the game and added an 18-yard reception. He showed more confidence in the week two loss at Mill Valley as he caught two passes.
After that, Lansing went on an eight-game winning streak and Tytla blossomed on both sides of the ball as a big-play receiver and big-hit defensive back.
"He really became a lot more physical than what we've ever seen of him," Pekarek said. "You think back, he came up with some big hits as a corner when he came up on run support."
He had plenty of sensational grabs as a receiver, too.
Tytla's 35-yard touchdown reception against Bonner Springs put the LHS lead out of reach. One week later he scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown on a 44-yard reception against Spring Hill.
He was arguably Lansing's most consistent player week after week, and his final numbers seemed to validate that.
Offensively, his 16 receptions for 219 yards and three touchdowns were the second best receiving marks on the team behind junior David Kern. He also made 24 of 26 extra-point tries and five of eight field goals attempts.
Defensively, Tytla was the Lions' ninth-leading tackler with 37 total, but led the Lions with two fumble recoveries and three interceptions.
By season's end, league coaches voted him honorable mention All-Kaw Valley League as a defensive back and second-team as a receiver and kicker. Not bad for a guy who once considered himself a kicking specialist.
"We wouldn't have been nearly the team we were had he not stepped up, and guys like Neal Watson and Aaron Sexton and Dave Hartel," Pekarek said. "Some of those guys really took the role we put them in and really played their butts off for us. That's kind of what it takes."
Tytla's rapid improvement throughout the season and the potential he showed he has to excel in a variety of positions has opened the door for him to play football at the next level. It's another opportunity he is embracing. He said he would be interested in playing at Northwest Missouri State or Pittsburg State if either offers him a position to play, but he also is considering walking on at Kansas or Kansas State.
While college programs are making room for Tytla, Lansing will have to find a way to fill his shoes. That will not be easy, and Pekarek knows it.
"He's going to be real tough to replace," Pekarek said. "I'm not sure we have anybody as far as kicking to replace him, or as a defensive back, but guys step up year after year so I hope we'll have somebody. We're gonna miss him."