Napoleon learning a lot about NLL

By BRUCE HEFFLINGER hefflinger@crescent-news.com Published:

Napoleon has played just three Northern Lakes League games to date, yet head coach Tory Strock and his squad have learned plenty about the conference.

"I think there's a gap between the top and bottom of the conference right now," surmised Strock, whose team has lost to Sylvania Southview and Maumee while beating Springfield in NLL play. "That's something that stands out.

I'm not sure where we fit in yet, but we'll know more in a couple weeks."

At 3-0, Southview is the league's lone unbeaten with Maumee one game back along with Anthony Wayne and Perrysburg, Napoleon's next two league opponents.

"In the GBC (Napoleon's previous league), all the teams were almost equal athletically even though there was a distance in the teams from top to bottom," Strock explained. "In the NLL, Southview is superior athletically."

The defending league champion Cougars, which did not have any NLL squad come closer than 14 points in a game last season, have already beaten three of the top league contenders, Napoleon (28-13), Maumee (45-27) and Perrysburg (29-7).

"Southview has kind of set the bar," Strock said about the NLL. "I felt like we could have beaten Maumee but I didn't have that feeling against Southview.

"I don't know that you can close that gap athletically, it comes down to the kids you have out for the program. You've got to try to get to their level through outstanding coaching and in the weight room. All those things take time and effort.

"Southview does that but starts out with top-notch athletes. The rest of us, especially us in Division III, have to work on that with execution and discipline."

Being the newest team in the league has also had its drawbacks admitted Strock.

"A couple of the coaches have been a little standoffish," Strock said. "I get this sense that we're like the new kid in school. People are trying to test you. Do they respect you or not? We tell the kids you won't get that respect until you perform consistently at a high level.

"It's a little different than we expected going in," Strock continued. "I thought it would be a smoother transition."

Instead, the Wildcats have found out being the new kid on the block isn't what it is all cracked up to be.

"Some things are different," Strock said. "For example, what we've seen so far is more extracurricular activity after plays. There is a lot of jawing, things we're not used to. I didn't expect that.

"I'm not saying our kids are angels but I can count on one hand the number of personal fouls we have had until this year and we've already had so many - and it's the second person that usually gets caught. There's just a lot more happening after the whistle and I don't know who to blame for that."

As the schedule has worked out, Strock has now seen every team in the league, either on the field or on film in scouting.

"There's just more depth," Strock explained. "These schools have good (football) tradition and kids want to be part of that. Even though we faced a lot of athleticism in the GBC I don't think there was the depth there is in the NLL."

That makes it more difficult for Napoleon, the smallest school in the league.

"When we played Southview and Maumee it seemed like they were two and three deep at every position," Strock said. "Then you watch the JVs on Saturday and they're deep there.

"I still think we're on track and things will shake out when the season is over and we'll be all right. We've played some of the top teams in the conference and gotten a sample of what the NLL looks like talent-wise."

It continues on Friday when Napoleon begins a stretch of three consecutive road games with a trip to Whitehouse to face a 5-1 Anthony Wayne squad.

"Their coach (Craig Smith) is a class guy and I'm looking forward to competing against them," Strock said. "They have a similar philosophy to what we do.

"Offensively, they're a mirror-image of (Lima) Shawnee, jet sweeps, belly and ISO plays. If you can not stop the jet sweep you will not beat them ... period. We've got to be physical on the edges and we've got to attack them. We can't sit back and catch, so to speak, we have to be aggressive."

It's just a month into league play, and the learning continues for the "new kid in school."

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