More than three years ago, Kevin Kopecky arrived at Leavenworth High as the school’s new football coach and noticed something strange: There didn’t seem to be any expectations surrounding the program, which hadn’t advanced to the postseason in three decades.
Kopecky led the downtrodden Pioneers to a 7-21 record and a 2011 Class 6A playoff appearance in three seasons before leaving earlier this year to take over at Eudora, where the 26-year coaching veteran knew interest and the anticipation of success made it a very different job from the moment he signed up for it.
“The expectations are very high at Eudora right now. They probably have been for the last 10 or 15 years,” the Cardinals’ first-year coach said. “I want to be at a place where there are high expectations.”
EHS football players and supporters have grown accustomed to success, with the Cardinals advancing to the 4A championship game and finishing runner-up each of the past two seasons under former coach Gregg Webb, now at Truman, in Independence, Mo. Eudora went 96-30 in Webb’s 11 seasons, and Kopecky’s goal is to maintain that level, if not improve upon it.
“Is it gonna be difficult? Sure, but it’s also exciting,” he said.
A major part of the challenge comes with the implementation of Kopecky’s no-huddle, spread offense — a far different approach than Eudora’s run, run and run some more style under Webb. Last season, 12 Eudora players combined to rush 679 times for 3,724 yards in 14 games, while quarterback Andrew Ballock, now a senior, only attempted 90 passes and threw for 802 yards.
It’s not that Eudora won’t run the ball anymore in Kopecky’s system, it’s just that passing will be a major part of the game plan, instead of a tactic to keep defenses honest. The new coach said the Cardinals have adjusted to the change throughout the summer and keep getting better. In their final seven-on-seven date, EHS beat every team it faced.
“What I’ve liked about the kids so far,” Kopecky said, “is there’s a lot of toughness there. It’s just a football town.”
Eudora senior Justin Underwood, a tackle on offense and defense, expects the team will continue improving with the new spread attack while keeping with the same 4-3 base defense with which the players are familiar. And the more they get to know their new coach, the more they like him.
“He treats us like we’re family,” Underwood said. “He’s always in contact with us.”
The players, he added, are confident in Kopecky’s ability to maintain Eudora’s stellar reputation. Kopecky’s teams reached the state title game once at both David City, Neb. (1986), and St. Thomas Aquinas (2008), falling short each time.
“Knowing that he knows success,” Underwood said, “and has been to the playoffs a bunch motivates us.”
Kopecky, who also coached at Ralston, Neb., holds a career record of 157-119 and can commiserate with the returning Eudora players who have participated and lost in the state title game. He wants to help them go one step further.
“For any of those kids who are back that remember that feeling,” the coach said, “we want to finish.”