Jennifer is a senior at Shawnee Mission East. She enjoys country music, cowboy boots and cowboys. Mainly the last one. She is also a vital member of the Broadcasting Dream Team. Read Full »
It’s no secret by now that the East varsity football team of 2012 is not the Lancer team from years past. The success of the team has been on the rise since head football coach Chip Sherman came to East four years ago, and with a current record of 5-0, it’s the best start in the history of the football program. The team, made up of a variety of sophomores, juniors and seniors, has reached a level of success that no one expected. A success achieved by having only a few of their best athletes involved in most plays on both sides of the ball.
Since coming to East, Sherman has had to employ many players on offense and defense. The trend has continued and escalated this year with athletes having to step up and play most of the game. Senior twins Sam and David Stewart are only a few of the players experiencing the weight of a shorter roster. David, a running back and inside linebacker, puts hours in the weight room every day, and worked with the team on training during the summer to meet the demands of the season.
“We are a very well conditioned team,” David said. “Compared to other[media-credit id=147 align=”alignright” width=”199″][/media-credit]teams, we are in great shape and we are a lot tougher. We’re always ready to play.”
David was named the Sunflower League Defensive Player of the Month [for September] with *42 tackles. The Stewarts sit out on only a few downs, and are generally the ones running the ball or tackling for the team while they are in. According to Sherman, without them and the other key players, the offensive and defensive games would not run the same.
“We would certainly try the same offense, and in an ideal world it would work,” Sherman said. “It’s like the weather, you just can’t predict it.”
Many 6A schools in Kansas have an abundance of players and are prepared with decent depth on the team. But in order to match the size of other teams, East has to have players from sophomores to seniors suit-up. This is an issue that Sherman sees as a movement in recent years.
Sherman believes the problem is rooted in the recent specialization of a single sport. According to him, many young people have decided to just participate and invest most of their time in one sport. It has become more rare that a student will play multiple sports, and Sherman doesn’t think that problem will going away anytime soon.
“Young people have so many other interests,” Sherman said. “So, where we used to have five to seven baseball players [on the team], now we only have one or two.”
Senior Connor Rellihan has also played a significant role on the team this year. Playing in three positions, slot receiver, cornerback and punter, Rellihan has had to take on the challenge of competing in many roles. According to Rellihan, playing multiple positions is a result of many players not returning to the sport after their freshmen, sophomore and even junior seasons.
To fix the problem, Sherman has had to promote his program more to the younger players. Sherman goes to watch the pee-wee football games, and hosts camps to get players energized about high school football. He also persuades boys to try out for the team, along with highlighting the positive things in the program.
“The band teacher promotes the band, and the people that run the plays promote the plays,” Sherman said. “All of our coaches and sponsors promote our activity as well.”
Because of the lack of boys trying out for football, Sherman has been forced to play many players for most of the game. However, East is not the only school in the district that has had this problem.
“[Athletic Director Sam Brown] called the other Shawnee Mission schools, and each one of us are all fairly close in our numbers,” Sherman said. “I don’t know if you call it a trend, but I think it is where we are right now.”
To most, including the players, it would seem natural that athletes would get worn down or tire out throughout a game or the season as a whole — especially if many are playing both sides of the ball. But for the Lancers it has had an opposite effect. The team is working harder than in the past to condition in practice so tiring out becomes almost nonexistent.
The nature of football itself also helps give the team a rest. According to Sherman, the players aren’t in for every down, so they get at least 30 seconds while the other play is going on to take a break on the sidelines. The players also are able to catch their breath on the field in between plays.
“An average football play lasts six seconds. So, you go as hard as you can for six seconds, but then you get a rest,” Rellihan said. “Yeah, it’s tiring, but I like to think we are in pretty good shape as a team.”
However, numbers on the team are not the only issue. Injuries could also become the weakness of this key-player dominated team. With senior Troy Wilkins sitting on the sidelines against Olathe East due to a pulled hamstring, and senior David Sosna separating his shoulder, injuries have already posed a problem for crucial players. While injuries are a looming threat, Sherman likes to think in terms of avoiding injury.
“[It’s all about] injury prevention,” Sherman said. “The better condition you are in, the less likely you are to injure muscles and things like that.”
The threat of an injury doesn’t just haunt the coaches, but also the players. According to Rellihan a season-ending injury could be devastating for the team. Not only would they lose a skilled varsity player on offense, but also one on defense. Sherman describes losing a player like senior running back and linebacker Patrick Blackburn as losing one varsity spot on defence, and a third of a spot on offense — considering he shares the running back position with the Stewart brothers.
The decision to play so many athletes on both sides of the ball wasn’t an easy one for Sherman. He looked at the number of players after the 2011 season, and realized that the entire offensive line and backfield had graduated. He knew that new starters would have to step up and take on these difficult positions to help fill the void left on the team, but he remained hopeful in the returning athletes.
“Right now those kids have put in so much time and effort,” Sherman said. “They’re good enough and in good enough shape to [play both sides of the ball.] So, we’re going to let them do it.”
Overall the team has been succeeding at a level that has not been achieved by others in the past. They have swept the four Olathe schools — something that no team has accomplished since all of the Olathe schools joined the Sunflower League in 2004. With this new-found success, there are implications of going deep into postseason play. Many may see these games as tiring for the team; however, Sherman doesn’t think these possible extra games will hinder them.
“I don’t see it,” said Sherman. “In Kansas you play once a week [unlike other states, where they play multiple times a week], so they don’t tire as easily.”
As for the future, Sherman believes it to be bright. He sees strong underclassmen players that can step up to the plate along with almost half of the starters returning next year — something that Sherman sees as ideal. Still, he doesn’t see the problem of a small team going away.
“In a school like this, there just may be a conflict in the time and effort it takes to play football,” Sherman said. “That is a battle that we have to continue to fight.”