ROCKY RIVER — Lutheran West spent last year learning — a coaching staff learning a new league, players learning a new system and players and coaches learning how to handle each other.
Now it’s time for the Longhorns to deliver a lesson to the rest of the Patriot Athletic Conference.
“The guys have worked hard and we’re looking forward to competing this year,” Longhorns coach Dave Stupka said. “We have a very tough schedule. This is one of the most underrated leagues I think as far as coaching, every team we face is well-prepared. That means we have to work even harder every week, the kids and the coaching staff.”
Of course the one thing that can trump good coaching is good talent. Lutheran West appears to be in good shape in that department.
Wide receiver Brad Warnkin and tight end Aaron Geye are returning from junior seasons where they averaged more than two receptions a game from quarterback Greg Kunze, a senior captain who threw 12 touchdowns last year.
“Our experience really helped us in two-a-days this summer,” Kunze said. “Last year we were working on getting plays in for the first week of practice. This year we had everything in and we were able to get a lot of reps and doing other drills to get us better.”
Linebacker/offensive lineman Sam Shick, who is another of the Longhorns’ four captains this season, agreed that the familiarity the team now has with the coaching staff made preparations for this season easier.
“I feel like it has been easier this year because we know what we’re doing more,” Shick said. “So many times last year we got mixed up with terminology. We got more work in this year because when we set up a new drill, we know what to do right away.
As players we’ve warmed up to the coaching staff and we know their tendencies and what they expect of us.”
Geye and Derek Naim, who led the defense with three interceptions last year, are the Longhorns’ other captains.
Despite the stiff learning curve, Lutheran West won four of its last six games in 2012 to more than double its win total from the previous year. This year the Longhorns drop to Division V and appear to have enough computer points up for grabs on its schedule that competing for a playoff spot is not out of the question.
“Our speed is up a notch this year and we’ve been more crisp in practice,” Kunze said. “Our goal is to win every game. I don’t care about my personal stats, if I throw for 0 yards and run for 0 yards and we win the game I will be as happy as a clam.”
After allowing 21 or more points in three straight games — all losses — early in 2012, the defense regrouped to shutout Brookside, Brooklyn and Oberlin and allowed an average of 9.5 points over the final six games.
“We try to play aggressive on defense,” Shick said. “We try to focus on doing our individual jobs on the field and if we do that I think we can win a lot of games.”
As the Longhorns prepare to open the season against Firelands, Stupka is still in the process of figuring out what type of team Lutheran West will be.
“We will be multiple in what we do,” he said. “We will spread some teams out but we also like to play power football. We have some nice athletes in this offense and we want to be able to get the ball to all of them.”
While the team will eventually be judged on wins and losses, Stupka realizes there are even more important goals.
“Our goal here at Lutheran West is to be the best we can be in whatever we do,” he said. “We have an obligation to the mission and philosophy of the school and that extends to athletics, academics and community involvement. It’s great to be a part of that and our players understand how that philosophy is a part of everything we do.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.