At no point last season did Lawrence High football center Kyle Wittman have more pre-game jitters than he did when the Lions played Olathe South.
“That whole week, I had almost every coach coming up to me: ‘Hey, you’ve got a big game this week. Don’t screw it up,’” Wittman said.
LHS probable starters
LT — Alex Jones, sr.
LG — Matt Weiss, sr.
C — Kyle Wittman, sr.
RG — Jacob Nation, sr.
RT — Amani Bledsoe, so.
QB — Nyle Anderson, jr.
RB — Drew Green, sr.
WR — Kieran Severa, sr.
WR — Tucker Sutter, sr.
WR — Zay Boldridge, sr.
WR — Adam Hayes, sr.
DT — Kyle Wittman, sr.
NG — Matt Weiss, sr.
DT — Alex Jones, sr.
OLB — Keran Severa, sr.
OLB — Ryan Bellinger, sr.
ILB — Drew Green, sr.
ILB — Justin Sorem, sr.
CB — Zach Alderman, sr.
CB — Zakary McAlister, jr.
SS — Tucker Sutter, sr.
FS — Dearion Cooper, jr.
Tonight, LHS opens its season against O-South at Olathe District Activity Center (kickoff at 7), and senior Braden Smith, the same colossus that made Wittman so anxious last fall, again will stare down the Lions’ center.
That’s actually a good thing for Wittman, now 6-foot-1 and 265 pounds. In a 34-27 LHS victory last year, he focused his nervous energy into a rhythm that helped him battle Smith, the top college prospect in Kansas at 6-foot-6, 275 pounds.
“It didn’t feel like I did anything spectacular,” Wittman recalled.
But senior LHS receiver Kieran Severa disagreed. He thought the center had an excellent night against Smith and has seen Wittman get stronger and become a better player in the 11-plus months since then.
“One person doesn’t regulate the entire team,” Severa said of Smith. “We’ll game-plan around him, as every team will, because he’s such an influential player, but as long as Kyle can handle his business, we’ll be fine.”
In Wittman’s words, he let Smith go away from the play if that was the route he took, and if Smith started flowing toward the action, the Lions center stayed in his face.
“You just can’t let him run all over you, or he’s gonna get 15, 20 tackles, like he could,” Wittman said. “He’s just that fast and that strong.”
LHS coach Dirk Wedd made it clear Wittman will have help throughout the game in the form of double- or triple-teams against Smith.
“I don’t think I’ve ever put four people on somebody before,” Wedd said.
Wedd’s preparation for the Falcons has him concerned about other players besides Smith, too.
“They’re good, like always,” Wedd said of the 2011 state champions. “They’ve probably got six or eight guys faster than our fastest guy.”
The Lions soon will know if the team can match Wittman’s attitude.
“I want to get some (O-South) blue on my helmet, if you know what I mean,” he said.