As thrilling as it is to start the season, Week 1 has the power to make some football coaches lose sleep for other reasons.
“You’re always concerned with whoever you open with,” Free State High coach Bob Lisher said, “because there’s a lot of unknowns going into that first game.”
The Firebirds actually know a few things about tonight’s opponent, Olathe Northwest. While the Ravens lost a killer combination of skill players, their offensive and defensive linemen have been around. Lisher said FSHS must control the line of scrimmage in its season opener (7 p.m., at College Boulevard Activity Center).
“Last year we struggled,” Lisher said of a 20-14 Free State victory over ONW. “We won the game, but we struggled against them up front.”
The Firebirds, senior receiver and linebacker Tye Hughes said, need to prove they are a better team than they were a year ago.
“Hopefully we can show them that we have a really strong defense and that we play really hard every play, and we don’t really take any plays off,” Hughes said.
With eight of their 11 defenders having played significant snaps last season, senior lineman Riley Buller said the Firebirds hope to show outsiders something else about this year’s team.
“I think they’re gonna notice we’re quite a bit bigger, more experienced than last year,” Buller said.
And with so much unknown about this year’s version of the Ravens, Buller added, Free State can’t be overly concerned about that.
“We think we can work on our own techniques,” he said, adding that while FSHS might have less-experienced linemen, they’re ready to learn through experience.
The FSHS defense as a unit, Lisher said, will be challenged by the ONW offense, which likes to spread the ball around the field.
“In the first game, that’s a tough situation to go into,” Lisher said, “but we like to spread it out, too, so it’s not something our guys haven’t seen.”
The Ravens attack the perimeter, the coach added, not only by throwing the ball, but also by running off the edges.
“If we can shut those things down, we’re gonna have an opportunity for success,” Lisher said. “If we struggle with those, it’s gonna be a long night.”
Considering tonight marks the beginning of the end of their careers, Buller said the seniors plan to make the most of their remaining Friday nights.
“We’re really excited,” he said, “especially after three weeks of knocking the crap out of each other.”