Wristen: Team play, not star power, lifts Lions
Look down the Lansing High football roster and try to guess who will earn All-Kaw Valley League honors this year.
Try to name the star players.
It's a mystery.
On offense, senior lineman Peter Willcott, senior tight end Joe Kohl (24 catches, 325 yards) and junior wide receiver Stephen Didde (23 catches, 370 yards) could nab some league recognition. Running backs Kyle Grape and Chris Hill probably lack enough carries to merit consideration despite being tough runners.
Defensively, Kohl (linebacker, 84 tackles), linebacker David Dickson (83 tackles) and linemen Mycol Bowen (46 tackles) and Tyler Strouhal (46 tackles) could be honored. So could defense back Tim Torchio for his five interceptions.
Amid the names, however, there are no clear-cut standouts like there were in 2005. No LHS player had such an individual imposing presence like Ryan Robbins did when he collected 12 quarterback sacks. Nobody this season was a sure-thing to catch the ball like David Kern was.
That's what makes this playoff-bound Lansing football team different from those of 2004 and 2005. Instead of looking to star players, the 2006 Lions have relied on everybody to carry part of the load.
The Lions only won once they completely bought into the team concept - the expectation that everybody would do their job. They're on the brink of the state quarterfinals because of leadership from first-, second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-string players. A team, indeed.
"Last year we had a lot of good players and (the success had to do with) the ability of the players," senior quarterback J.T. Collins said. "This year it's more about everybody working together. That's what has come through the last four or five games.
"Everybody is starting to play with each other and not against each other. It's a team now, and that's the big thing. Our chemistry is great. It's on a whole new level from where it was earlier."
Earlier was when the Lions started the season 0-3.
Earlier was when they gave away two games at home.
Earlier is so far in the past, and the Lions aren't looking back.
As the Lions improved, adversity continued to follow. The schedule grew tougher and injuries piled up. Grape tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Basehor-Linwood. Two weeks later starting fullback Daniel Eyerly and backup tailback Hill went down with injuries in the district opener. Third-, fourth- and fifth-string running backs Cameron Schiller, Brenton Smith and Dickson picked up the slack and helped Lansing beat Kansas City-Washington, 20-13, in the second district game. That gave the Lions a chance to stay in the playoff hunt.
"No matter who we have back there, it just seems to be clicking," Collins said, applauding the reserves for playing like starters.
A healthy Hill returned to the lineup for Lansing's 19-7 victory over Kansas City-Schlagle in the district finale. He rushed for 121 yards, but more unsung heroes stepped up. Fullback Brad Terron rushed for 66 yards on nine carries. Torchio had another interception. Strouhal made a team-high 10 tackles, more than 20 percent of his stops total for the season. Senior lineman Billy Bayles made a season-best six tackles.
Even the guys without the stats did their part.
"The sidelines were doing great," Willcott said, crediting the Lions' reserves with generating good energy. "They were cheering a lot tonight and it set the tone."
In typical Lansing fashion, there wasn't one standout. It was a team effort with everybody chipping in.
Lansing plays Kansas City-Turner at 7 p.m. Friday at Bonner Springs High School in the first round of the state playoffs. LHS never has been to the state quarterfinals, but that would happen with a win against Turner. If it does, don't look for one or two heroes to laud. Look at all of the guys in the Lansing jerseys. For this group, it's all about team.