On a steamy August morning, football coach Dustin Delaney stands near the SM East track and watches half a dozen players doing lunges down the straightaway. They grimace with each exaggerated step forward. Sweat pours from their brows.
“They’re about done now,” Delaney says. “They start off running 400s, so by this point their legs are gassed.”
Coach Dustin Delaney on difference between 2013 and 2014 prep
Listen to Lancers head coach Dustin Delaney talk about the difference between teaching players the flexbone for the first time in 2013 and the team’s approach in 2014.
There’s attention to detail, to doing the little things correctly, even now, two weeks before official practices begin.
A year ago at this time, Delaney was just getting to know a group of players he’d never worked with before and schooling them in the very basics of his unorthodox flexbone offense. It’s fair to say that expectations weren’t sky high for the new coach with a new system.
What a difference a year makes.
Heading into the 2014 season, the team is working from a much more solid foundation — both in terms of conditioning and experience with Delaney’s offense. And they’ve got a motivating factor that no other team can tap into: The feeling of walking off the field of the state championship game having come so close to a title. But having lost.
“With five minutes left in the state championship, the game was tied 21 to 21,” yells an assistant coach to the players as they make their final sprint around the track. “Do you want to hit the wall now, or do you want to hit the wall then?”
Several of the players put their heads down and pick up speed for their final few strides.
With 16 starters — nine on offense — back from last year’s state runner up squad, memories of the loss to Derby are still fresh on the practice field. And they still sting.
“Devastating,” is how senior James Wooldridge, a First Team All Sunflower League offensive lineman describes it. “Since the last second of that game, we’ve all been thinking about coming back this year and winning it.”
Charley White, who plays defensive back and wide receiver, nods in agreement.
“After the workouts, the pain isn’t nearly as bad as what it felt like after that game,” he said.
In his inaugural year at the helm, Delaney piloted SM East to its best season in school history, an 11-2 effort that rallied a school that had been shocked by the sudden departure of popular coach Chip Sherman. The success of the 2013 campaign has Sunflower League football experts predicting big things for SM East in the regular season this year, but those prediction come also in part due to the fact that the Lancers’ schedule pits them against just two teams who had a winning record last season. But Delaney scoffs at the notion that his team won’t be tested — “There are plenty of good teams in our league” — or that his flexbone offense may have lost some of the surprise that gave the Lancers an edge last year.
“We’re always evolving, trying to come up with better ways to do things,” he said. “As soon as we stop, that could be an issue. But we haven’t, nor will we stop evolving.”
But more than anything, Delaney thinks his team’s greatest edge is their hunger to win after having fallen just short of their goal last season.
“Our kids understand what the goal is,” Delaney said. “They remember walking off the field of the state championship game and how dissatisfied we were. We don’t want to walk off the field like that this year.”