Local football teams working hard no matter the record

By BRUCE HEFFLINGERhefflinger@crescent-news.com Published:

Week eight of the high school season brings plenty of excitement for many area high school teams.

League titles, a berth in the playoffs and winning records are goals squads throughout the state are playing for with three games remaining.

But what about other teams?

Those that stand at 2-5, or even worse.

A conference crown is most likely out of the question. The same goes for the post-season. For many a .500 record is the best that can happen. For others there's less to play for during the stretch run for the season.

Or is there?

In reality, no matter the record, coaches understand the importance of "playing out the season" no matter what's at stake.

"We teach our kids to never give up," explained Ayersville mentor Chris Dales, whose squad is 2-5 with games remaining against Tinora, Antwerp and Wayne Trace. "You have to instill that type of value in kids.

"We want them to keep working hard. There will be success at some point. We have young kids playing that are taking their lumps right now, but are getting experience and in the future there will be success. We have to ingrain that in the kids."

Youth is an issue at Paulding as well, where head coach Chris Etzler and his squad are still in search of their first victory of the season.

"With us being so young I don't think it's as hard (to stay motivated) as a team that expected big things at the beginning of the season that didn't come to fruition," said Etzler, whose team entered the campaign with just 10 returning lettermen. "As the season's gone on our younger guys have gotten better. They can see they're getting better and that's a key for them.

"To be honest, the last three weeks we're playing the best we have since football started Aug. 1. I think it's because of the kids more than me. We have a younger group that wants to get better and they're seeing it's starting to happen."

Being out of the league race and a playoff berth this early in the season is something new at Napoleon. After all, the Wildcats have been to the post-season six out the past nine years. But at 2-5 in their first year in the Northern Lakes League, the 'Cats can hope for no better than a .500 mark.

"The biggest thing right now is trying to refocus the kids," explained Napoleon head coach Tory Strock, whose team has lost four of five including two straight NLL games. "There certainly shouldn't be pressure and the kids seemed looser this week in practice.

"The key word I told the kids at our Monday meeting is accountability and it starts with me. We challenged the kids what is it going to take to motivate you, whether it's pride or whatever you've got to find something. Championship programs play hard every week not just when there's something at stake."

Keeping the players positive can be an issue as well for coaches.

"Sometimes it's tough keeping the morale up and the confidence up," admitted Dales, who last took the Pilots to the playoffs in 2007. "It's a challenge for myself and the coaching staff. You also have to guard against negativity in the community. We try to keep the kids positive and remind them we're in this together and we're going to go down fighting as hard as we can."

Etzler is happy to see his squad remain confident, despite the 0-7 record.

"It goes back to the makeup of the team," Etzler explained. "The kids we're putting out there now are so young, they're playing with confidence because they see themselves getting better. We've also seen in the younger kids the desire to want to get better. Julian Salinas is one example of that. He had never played quarterback at any level until Aug. 1, but was thrown into the position (when last year's starter moved away) and he had 300 yards passing the other night."

But the tough season can have an impact on coaches as one would expect.

"First and foremost you question yourself, not only your ability to coach kids but inside a game should you have done this or done that," Etzler said. "You just have to fall back on what you believe in as a coach and what has worked in the past. We've won games in the past but it hasn't happened this year. Some years it's injuries, some year's it's the makeup of the team and some years it's your schedule."

Napoleon has played a killer schedule to date with six of the seven teams featuring winning records. Up next is Perrysburg, which comes in at 6-1.

"To be honest I've done a lot of soul searching," Strock said. "You expect to compete for a league title and a playoff berth at Napoleon. You feel like you let people down. I feel like I've let the players down. They put all their trust in me and I begin to think what could I have done differently in game planning or practices.

"Our players and coaches have put in so much time and effort, I wish we had more to show for it."

With league crowns and the playoffs out of the question, teams look to make the end of the season a building block toward 2012.

"Hopefully the lumps we've taken will pay off," noted Etzler, who has high hopes despite just six juniors on this year's roster. "We've got a strong sophomore group as far as numbers and they've played a lot."

With just two seniors on this year's squad, Dales is also looking for better things ahead at Ayersville.

"Young kids make mistakes, we're just trying to eliminate those mistakes," Dales said. "Sometimes you have no control over them because of youthfulness. We're trying to cut those down little by little each week and by the end of the season we hope we can come out with a positive foundation for the following year."

But is that comforting for this year's seniors?

"Our seniors have worked hard," Etzler said. "Even those that are not playing as much as they were early in the year are working hard in practice and giving the others good looks."

Win or lose, those that play will find out dealing with adversity doesn't end on the football field once high school ends.

"We try to relate what we do to life," Dales pointed out. "We talk about that every single day. Things are going to happen - you might lose a job, a family member gets sick, terminal illness, divorce. There are obstacles in life you have to deal with and hopefully this helps prepare them for the future. They might not understand that now, but hopefully when they look back five years from now they will say that coach Dales was trying to teach us life-long lessons."

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