Archive for Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Woodling: Coaches typically accurate

Lawrence Free State High Firebird head coach Bob Lisher talks to his team after their game against the Olathe East Hawks. The Firebirds defeated the Hawks 32-19 November 10, 2006.

Lawrence Free State High Firebird head coach Bob Lisher talks to his team after their game against the Olathe East Hawks. The Firebirds defeated the Hawks 32-19 November 10, 2006.

August 15, 2007


Bob Lisher referred to what might be called the Gene Wier Syndrome.

Speaking at the Sunflower League kickoff hoopla last week in Olathe, Lisher quipped that most of the league's football coaches were like Wier, the fabulously successful boss at Olathe North who now coaches in Texas.

"We all talk like we'll never win a game," quipped Lisher, the only football coach Free State High has ever had.

Everyone knows better, of course. No way will all the Sunflower teams post 0-9 records.

Only through the privacy of an anonymous ballot do the coaches say what they really think, and in a poll conducted by the Olathe News the clear-cut favorite to capture the league title is Olathe South.

Ten of the 12 coaches tapped the Falcons as the SL's best team. One first-place ballot went to Shawnee Mission West and the other to Olathe East.

Should we believe that preseason prediction? I'm certainly not going to argue. Not after last year. Prior to the 2006 season, five SL coaches predicted SM West would win and four opted for Free State, and those two schools went on to tie for the league championship.

This time not a single one of the coaches believes the Firebirds have a chance to repeat as champs or co-champs, and who can blame them? Not after Free State was riddled by graduation.

Lisher has only three returning starters off his '06 offensive juggernaut, and all three are playing different positions. Craig Rosenstengle has moved from wide receiver to quarterback, Chucky Hunter from H-Back to tailback and Scott Williams from tackle to guard. At the same time, Lisher has just four returning starters on defense.

Based on those skimpy numbers, SL coaches would seem justified in dropping the Firebirds into the second division. But they didn't. Free State is No. 4 in the preseason coaches poll, the highest-ranked team that didn't receive at least one first-place vote.

What do the coaches know that the casual observer doesn't? In the first place, the Firebirds have a deep and talented junior class. Second, of the seven league teams on Free State's schedule, four are predicted to finish in the second division.

One of those four is Lawrence High. The SL coaches picked the Lions to top the lower echelon at No. 7, and that may be a reach. Coach Dirk Wedd's personnel losses are similar to Free State's, and his schedule is brutal with five games against teams predicted to finish in the upper division.

Looking at it another way, Lawrence High has to play all four Olathe schools - three of them on the road - and the Lions don't have Leavenworth, the coaches' unanimous choice to finish in the cellar.

Meanwhile, Free State will play Leavenworth and only two Olathe schools, both at Haskell Stadium. Then again, one of those two is preseason favorite Olathe South, and it's the Firebirds' season opener.

No one expects the Firebirds to repeat last year's magical 11-1 season, the best in the school's relatively short history, but a dramatic dropoff seems unlikely. Free State has some weapons to go with a solid cast.

Lawrence High, however, may be hard-pressed to match last year's 6-5 record because of its murderous schedule.


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