When Dustin Delaney took over the Shawnee Mission East football program in 2013 he had a vision for what he wanted to accomplish.
From the very beginning Delaney talked about state championships. That was the expectation and not 7, 8 or 9 win seasons.
Delaney had experienced both as a coach.
SM East Kickoff Info
Opponent: SM Northwest (1-7)
Location: SM North District Stadium
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Everybody wants to win a state championship; that’s always an end goal, and for a program that had never won one, Delaney recalled it was an easy sell to his players, but for them to believe it is another thing.
“That’s the magic trick I wish I had an answer for,” Delaney said. “I don’t really know how that happened. I kept preaching it and I guess they believed me. Our kids were hungry for the kind of program we have. They were hungry to be good; our community was hungry for it.”
In that first year, Delaney took the Lancers to the Class 6A state championship where they fell 28-21 to Derby.
If they players hadn’t bought in before or during the season, they sure did after. Delaney said the success that first year went a long ways.
It helped the numbers increase; it helped the players realize know how hard they have to work in the weight room.
“That 2013 year, we weren’t very talented that year,” Delaney said. “But we had a great group of senior kids, who bought in and wanted to win and really would do anything it took to win. It was a really fun season to coach that group and make it all the way to state and dang near win it.”
Before coming to SM East, Delaney coached at Emporia for three years where he won seven games or more in each season. Before that he was an assistant at Hutchinson for current St. Thomas Aquinas coach Randy Dreiling and helped the Salthawks to four straight Class 6A state titles from 2006 to 2009.
When he got to SM East, he didn’t take over a terrible program, but it wasn’t the powerhouse that it is today.
Chip Sherman, who now coaches at Olathe Northwest, turned the program around after a 4-6 season in his first year in 2009 to three-straight seven win seasons, but they would lose to Olathe South twice and Olathe East in the playoffs.
“I didn’t do much research on what it was before I got here,” Delaney said. “I wasn’t really concerned with that because you have to establish your own program and your own identity.”
That identity has trickled down all the way to this year’s freshman and it starts with this current group of seniors.
The Class of 2017 was the first group of freshman to come through Delaney’s program.
“This class, the way they’ve developed is incredible,” Delaney said. “We lost to (SM West) 56-0 when they were freshman and we flip around and beat them 54-0 when they’re seniors. It’s a pretty special group that’s worked really hard.”
Delaney said for a team to be competitive at the 6A level, a team needs 20 seniors. The Lancers have 29 this season or roughly 76 percent have remained with the program since they were freshman.
Senior quarterback Luke Kaiser said it was so easy to buy into what Delaney was saying.
“Everyone bought in that first practice,” Kaiser said. “I think it was in the best interest of all the players to buy in. You look what happened and no one thought it would happen and it did.”
As a freshman Kaiser didn’t think the team would get to state. He said it was a ride for him because he got to suit up every game and was able to watch.
“Every one of those games was close,” Kaiser said.
The difference between his freshman year and sophomore year, when the Lancers went 13-0 and captured the first state title in program history, was players knew what to expect.
They knew what Delaney was about.
Senior wide receiver Sky Tate said one of the biggest differences he saw between Delaney and Sherman were weight room changes.
Tate participated in summer camps when Sherman was the coach, but said Delaney got rid of the machines and replaced them with racks.
“East is not a traditional football school, we went through rough stretches,” Tate said. “When our class got here we wanted to change that and we believed we were the class.”
Kaiser said the Sunflower League titles are important, but aren’t the main goal.
The Lancers have won two Sunflower League titles in four years and are looking to return to the state championship for the third time in four seasons.
They begin that quest Thursday night against Shawnee Mission Northwest at 7 p.m., at the Shawnee Mission North District Stadium.