It’s a week before school starts, and the SM East weight room is a teeming hive of organized chaos.
Dozens of football and basketball players line up at various stations throwing hundreds of pounds above their heads, getting their height measured and testing their vertical jump.
Ten years ago, you’d have been lucky to find half this many athletes putting everything they had into such a training regimen a week and a half before official practices begin. But people like the idea of being a part of a success. And you can’t get any more successful than SM East’s football team was last year.
Nine months after the Lancers capped off a dominant undefeated season that culminated with the first state football title in school history, interest in SM East football has never been higher. For proof, look no further than the more than 50 freshman trying out for this year’s team.
“We’ll have to do a freshman A and B team,” said varsity head coach Dustin Delaney from his office, a cadre of skinny incoming freshman visible through the window. “We haven’t had to do that in years.”
That headcount bodes well for the future of the program — “Football’s a numbers game, and the more people you have wanting to play, the deeper your talent level is,” Delaney said — but it doesn’t change the challenge the Lancers will have this season maintaining their high level of play with so many key players gone.
Sixteen starters from the Lancers’ 2013 state runner-up campaign were back on the field last year with a season’s worth of quality experience under their belts that helped propel the team to its historic 2014. But many of the weapons that cut up opponents’ defenses and stymied their offenses have graduated. Quarterback Gunnar Englund is gone, as are favorite targets Alec Dean, Jackson Gossick and Sam Huffman. Offensive lineman James Wooldridge and defensive end Kyle Ball have graduated as well, and left big shoes to fill.
But, says Delaney, with two full years of training in his system, this year’s 12 returning varsity players are in a good position to keep the program’s momentum going. Ball will be replaced by 6’5”, 240 pound senior Luke Heisdorffer, who put on 45 pounds in the off season and is making the move from defensive end to left tackle. Stephen Gill, a fixture in last year’s brick wall of an offensive line, is back as well, and will again be opening up holes for running back Wyatt Edmisten, who found the end zone 32 times during his junior season.
“Last year, the summer work was really about conditioning,” Edmisten said. “This year it’s more about rebuilding the team, because we’ve lost a lot of guys. We’ve definitely got a chip on our shoulder to prove we can still keep winning with all those starters gone.”
And, Delaney keeps reminding his players, this year’s team hasn’t accomplished anything yet.
“Our goal hasn’t changed,” Delaney said. “But this year’s team hasn’t won a state championship. We haven’t won anything.”
The Lancers’ first official practice will be August 17, with the first game of the year against Gardner Edgerton set for Sept. 5.