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New head football coach Dustin Delaney is accustomed to success.
Four state championships. Five league titles. Placing 16th in the country for Division II during his own college football days at Emporia State University. At that point in his career, Delaney was very comfortable with his winning record at his old schools: Offensive coordinator at Hutchinson High School for three years, and then three seasons as the head coach at Emporia High.
But when Delaney got the call from then-athletic director Sam Brown last spring offering him the head football coaching position, he couldn’t deny his daughters the opportunity to be in a better school district and to live in a bigger community. So Delaney packed up his wife and two little girls, said goodbye to his reputation and his home in Emporia, Kansas, and settled into the Lancer community.
“[When they hired Delaney], I was very excited,” athletic director Kelli Kurle said. “He came in with a great record from Emporia, and he was at Hutch which [has] a huge, dominant football program so it was good that he came in with that kind of experience. For us to grab a head coach that late in the game, that was a big, huge success for us.”
When Delaney finally set foot in SM East, he had an impression to make. After sitting all the boys in the football program down and introducing himself, he set the tone for the year.
“The first time I met [Delaney] I thought he was kind of a hard-ass compared to Sherman just because he was like ‘Yeah, you guys are expecting to win games, but I expect to win championships.’” senior Will Mitchell said. “And I don’t think I’ve heard talk like that before. He just talked a pretty big game and so far he’s been backing it up.”
That change of attitude from past year to this year during former head coach Chip Sherman’s era showed from the minute he brought the guys into the weight room for summer training.
According to assistant coach Jason Filbeck, rather than taking an unnecessarily long time on the field and in the weight room like previous years, Delaney created a weight training system for each individual player’s core lift based off the amount of weight they can max out on. He’s determined to make this year’s team faster and stronger than they were in years past.
Besides changing the way the team trains, he’s also picked up the pace at practice. Instead of wasting time and having certain positions sit out while other positions practice on their own, Delaney has it so that nobody is ever sitting still. For example, if some players are working on kickoffs, the offensive linemen who aren’t doing anything will be taken by their linesman coach to go work on other fundamentals. Delaney has each practice scripted out and emailed to the other coaches so that no time is wasted asking ‘what’s next?’.
“It’s a very fast and efficient practice,” Filbeck said. “It’s get in, get out and go home. We weren’t in the weight room all day, all summer. We were ‘get on the field, run; get in the weight room, lift; get out. So I think the kids are starting to get the idea of the pace.’”
According to senior captain Ryan Carter, this fast-paced schedule was a rude awakening for some of the players who have been in the program for a while who have been used to slower-paced practice.
“Last year we would run a play, gather, then talk about a new play,” Carter said. “This year it’s run a play, sprint back, run a play, sprint back, run a play, sprint back.”
Another new concept that Delaney has brought with him from Hutchinson is the idea of platooning. Rather than having a small group of very athletic guys playing both offense and defense, this year there will be designated players for both. By doing this, players will save energy. According to cornerback junior Will Oakley, his technique also makes players much less prone to injury and more sustainable throughout the season.
In addition to platooning, Delaney has formed a new offensive system where, unlike last year, the pass will set up the run rather than the run setting the pass, as it has been done in years’ past. Players have to expect more motion and tricky plays in the back field, such as cutbacks and pitches.
There’s an an advantage that we’re going to run an offense that other teams aren’t prepared for,” Filbeck said. “And with platooning, not many programs play their kids one way. He knows his system of offense that he wants to run inside and out. He’ll be able to make very quick in-game adjustments.”
In addition to bringing in brand new uniforms for the first time in ten years and new weight lifting equipment, Delaney has brought something that Carter thinks will change the entire attitude of the program: his energy and intensity.
“[Delaney] is just so upbeat all of the time and into the game and really emotional,” Carter said. “The excitement for the team has just increased a lot.”
Delaney believes that the only way to get that intensity out of his players is by having a personal relationship with them. From having a seniors-only paintballing day over the summer to seeing his players in weights class everyday, he has put in effort to connect with his kids as much as he can.
After getting to know his kids and getting them to trust him, Delaney believes it pays off on the field.
“The kids that I’m closest to and know really well — and hopefully it’s all our kids — I can be a lot harder on them because they know I care about them,” Delaney said. “So I can challenge them and push them harder than I could otherwise, because they know in the end I’ve got their back, and they’ve got my back. There’ll be times they don’t like me, but they understand I care about them.”
Even though the football players have worked on Delaney’s new offense and adapted to his coaching style, some of them, like Mitchell, miss the opportunity for the bond made with a coach they would have had for their four years in the program.
“I mean it’s kinda hard,” Mitchell said. “Obviously I probably would have rather had a coach who I’d been with for four years, but if I had to have a new coach I’m glad it’s him. And I’m glad that our class is the first class to have him.”
Even so, Mitchell is just glad to be a part of a team and get to know Delaney as both a coach and a person. Although they won’t have had him for their entire high school football career, the team feels that the bond they’ve made with Delaney is palpable.
“I think there’s a reason God gave me two daughters because I feel like I’ve got 100 sons sometimes,” Delaney said.