SM North football had already endured some lean years before being thrown for a lurch this summer when Don Simmons, the experienced coach who many hoped would restore the program to respectability, abruptly announced he was taking a coaching job in Paragould, Ark., after completing just one season at SM North.
But when Ben Bartlett, a 1998 SM North graduate who played on the team as a student, was tapped to step up from the assistant coach position he’d occupied for the past seven years and take the helm, there was a sense that stability may finally have arrived at 7401 Johnson Drive. There may be no one more familiar with Indians football — and who remembers the good years the program experienced in the 1990s and early 2000s — than Bartlett.
And his players have responded to that experience.
“We were all caught a little off guard at our previous head coach’s hasty and untimely departure from the program,” Bartlett said via email. “However, the players and I have gotten to know each other well over the past several years. After essentially having a stranger come in and head coach for a year and then very suddenly bail on them, they have expressed their excitement to have someone lead them that they are familiar with and that they know they can trust.”
The Indians have a long row to hoe, to be sure. They went 0-9 last year, starting primarily underclassmen because there were very few upperclassmen available to suit up. Painful as it may have been to endure a winless 2013 campaign, those underclassmen gained varsity experience that Bartlett says may help them grow as players this year.
Among those underclassmen was Will Schneider, who was put in the rare situation of starting as quarterback as a freshman in 2013. Schneider will have one of his favorite targets from last season back again this year in senior Nick Perez.
“We have a good group of returning seniors who have a lot of games under their belt now, they will be expected to step up big for us this season,” Bartlett said.
For Bartlett, though, the most important goal for the season is creating a positive environment for the players.
“It is great to be teaching and coaching at the high school that inspired me to both teach and coach,” he said. “This is a tough, competitive league. Each year is full of surprises. Our goal is to be one of them.”