Based on the win-loss record alone, SM North’s football season last year wasn’t much to crow about. When you finish the year 2-8, it’s hard to claim much of a victory.
But close observers of the program know the 2014 campaign saw the Indians gain momentum that could translate into a surprising season if they can keep it alive this year. For one, the Indians finally snapped a Sunflower League-record 25-game losing streak by knocking off a badly outmatched Wyandotte High School in district play.
But perhaps more importantly, says Ben Bartlett, who was named the full-time head coach in the off season after serving in an interim role in 2014, was the fact that his team hung with their opponents in nearly every league game last year. Of note, the Indians actually tied first-place Olathe North in the third quarter of their game last October, turning heads in press boxes across northeast Kansas. In the fourth quarter, though, the Indians ran out of steam and the Eagles ran away with a 41-14 win.
“We really fought hard and we were in just about every game at halftime,” Bartlett said. “Then in the third or maybe the fourth quarter, we weren’t able to sustain the start of the game we had. Last season was a great momentum builder for the program for the guys to see that we can compete with anybody. We’ve still got some work to do to be able to last all four quarters.”
Bartlett said the Indians inability to complete games last year likely boiled down to two main causes: a lack of conditioning and a lack of numbers on the team.
But the ability to compete — if not complete — has sparked a new interest in SM North football among the students. In 2014, just under 100 students tried out for the football teams. This year, nearly 115 — a school record — came to try out.
As for the conditioning? Well, suffice it to say that the players noticed a difference about their off-season training program.
“Conditioning?” said junior quarterback Will Schneider, who enters his third season as the Indians starter, shaking his head. “The running… Well. Yeah, this off-season was real work. That’s the thing we’ve stressed though, because of the offense we run. We need to be one of the best conditioned teams because we’re go-go-go.”
When you consider that Schneider led the Sunflower League in passing yards and touchdowns last year, the prospect of him working with better-conditioned receivers and lineman should strike a pang of fear into opponents. But the main issue, Schneider said, will be getting the entire team to believe they are legitimate contenders.”
“That was the biggest thing for North. We’ve had some losing years and that was the struggle. Now it’s about getting that winning attitude, about going into every game expecting to win. Because we can, physically as a team, we’re preparing, to be able to be in every game at the end because we are going to be the best conditioned team.”
SM North kicks off its 2015 season September 4 against SM South.