Buoyed by a 7-3 record and a return to post-season football last year, Brad Luthman and St. Henry look to, and expect, to take another step toward the better days of Redskins football in 2017.
It’s 46 days until opening night of the 2017 football season and the Friday night fanatics who froth at the thought of who’ll be best, or just better, are already in a lather to talk, and read, football.
How good will the perennials, like Marion Local and its nine state titles, be?
Who will be the darkhorse this year – the team like Minster in 2014, that no one expected?
And which former power will emerge from the shadows to reignite a community’s passion for winning that has simply been put on slow simmer?
Well in St. Henry, Ohio, you’ll feel some of that heat in the person of head coach Brad Luthman, and collectively with the six-time state champion Redskins.
There is some excitement, controlled, but be assured…there’s expectation. In Luthman’s view, and those who watched their playoff march in 2016, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The better days of Redskin football could be closer than you think.
The best days were the four state titles under then coach Tim Boeckman, in 1990, ’92, ’94 and ’95…with Lacheys and Hartings and Hoyings.
Two more came to Jeff Starkey, who returned to the winner’s circle as coach in 2004 and ’06.
Then, the “cycle” hit, that inexplicable combination of smaller numbers, smaller players, and better competition from Versailles, Coldwater, Delphos St. John and Marion Local that simply defines life in the Midwest Athletic Conference. No quarter asked; and none given.
Luthman took the program in 2013, and immediately embarked on good, but not great, seasons. The ‘Skins won 6, and lost 4…more than once, while a young coach who played under Al Hetrick at Versailles, and coached under Tim Goodwin at Marion, learned the ropes.
Outwardly, he talked with patience. But inwardly, the passion to win, get better, and get back into the post-season flamed with urgency.
He got there in 2016. After a stumbling start against non-cons Covington and Eaton, Luthman made a change – at quarterback – the most significant position in football. Junior Daylon Lange took over and promptly led the team to wins in five of the next seven games. Only Coldwater and Marion Local, the perennials, tripped them up.
And then…an impressive playoff win over Spencerville, on the road, before bowing out for the year to Marion, 22-0.
Disappointing end, but enlightening. There were signs of St. Henry football the way it used to be. Lange threw it well, and Blake Hoyng ran the football and caught it well. Mitch Schwieterman and Hoyng were dynamic on defense from their linebacker positions.
“We played better and we learned some things as a coaching staff,” said Luthman this week, after a day of July workouts. “We made the change at quarterback with Daylon after the Eaton game and he never looked back.”
And why would you look back when suddenly your offense is putting points on the board.
“For the first three years we struggled on offense,” says Luthman, matter-of-factly. “We relied on Jesse Niekamp at running back.”
But not-so-suddenly, there was more on both sides of the ball last year.
Ryan Bruening made a catch to capture a thrilling overtime win against Anna.
Ryan Luttmer formed a dependable running tandom with Hoyng.
And Schwieterman was a stopper from his middle linebacker position.
Some, like Schwieterman and Hoyng, left through graduation, leaving the perennial questions for the fanatics. Former Press Pros colleague Roger Burcham used to ask…are there replacements in the wings who dream of being as good, or better? Luthman believes there’s competition and passion to keep last year’s momentum going.
He doesn’t go overboard, but in five years as head coach, he learned that continuity is as important as the roster itself.
“We’ve all been here now,” he says with a smile. “It was nice to get back to play in Week 11, and after five years we know better about how to come in on day one and what to do.
“It’s nice to have Daylon back at quarterback and we hope he takes the next step. He made good decisions last year and he showed he had the ability to make quick decisions. He’s a football kid. I had him in eighth grade algebra – good student – but he was always reading football books.”
Success begats success, of course, and steadily, in his five years, the numbers are coming back, complemented by an excellent freshman group numbering better than twenty. And below that, the feeder program in junior high is fertile and growing.
“When you win it creates some excitement, something you want to be part of,” adds Luthman, who lives by the credo that if you believe, if you work, and if you play like your hair’s on fire, anything is possible.
“Coach Stokes, and what he did with Minster last year to get them back to the state finals,” says Luthman. “He coached his butt off.”
They won’t be a darkhorse in 2017. Enough people saw enough last year to believe that the better days of St. Henry football really could be closer than you think. He’s got his quarterback returning and there’ll be competition at key positions. And, he’s got continuity, something in which Brad Luthman really believes.
Something for the Friday fanatics to consider about who’s best, or better…for the next 45 days.