During the first few weeks of the summer, high school football teams usually spend time teaching defensive players about their positions and shifting them around to find the right fit.
Don’t blame Free State’s football players for looking ahead with confidence.
On some plays at the Baker University contact camp Tuesday at Lawrence High, the Firebirds broke into the backfield and disrupted running lanes. They pressured quarterbacks. There were still mistakes, but they are proud of their progress with several returners from last season.
The Baker camp featured controlled scrimmages between Free State, Lawrence, Shawnee Mission South and St. Thomas Aquinas, two teams rotating each play against one school’s defense with another taking a rest on the sideline.
“It was getting better as the day went on,” Free State senior linebacker David Johnson said. “We just have to stay consistent. D-line is like the most important part of our defense. When the D-line guys keep (blockers) off linebackers, that’s key.”
Free State’s group of linebackers are its most experienced unit with Johnson, Jax Dineen, Jalen Nash and Shane Skwarlo on the inside, and Bo Miller, Gage Foster and Will Easter on the outside.
Most of those players saw time on the field last season and they are doing their best to pick up where they left off.
In the secondary, the Firebirds broke up several passes, including some interceptions from junior safety Keenan Garber.
“The thing I like about our defense, we’ve got some speed,” FSHS coach Bob Lisher said. “We don’t really have a lot of size but we do have some speed. The way we play our defense, size is not really a major contributor because we move guys so much.”
In all nine of Free State’s wins last season, its defense allowed 14 points or less.
There’s optimism that the FSHS defense can continue to play at a high level in the upcoming year, but the current focus is becoming more comfortable on the field.
“We’ve got to work for that No. 1 spot in each position,” senior cornerback Gabe Del Valle said. “It’s very crucial to work hard over the summer. We’ve got to keep fighting. We’ve got to keep getting things right and not be afraid to do anything wrong. We just have to work at it.”
Unlike Free State, Lawrence High’s defense doesn’t return quite as much experience from last season.
But the padded camps give the Lions an opportunity to rotate several players at most positions to see how they react.
“It’s a little different than what we did last year, the way we’re running things,” junior defensive end Samuel Bart said. “But I think the group has a lot of heart. We all want to make plays. If you put your mind to it, you can get it done. So we’re all putting in a lot of work and I think we’ll be good.”
Bart, listed at 6-foot-4 last season, lines up on the opposite side of the defensive line as 6-7 junior Eric Galbreath, who showed flashes of potential last season.
Behind the defensive line, junior linebacker Isaac Flint made a couple of stops in the backfield. The Lions said the key to their progress is just improving each time they are on the field.
“I don’t even think we knew how to line up going into KU (team camp),” LHS coach Dirk Wedd said. “Now we can make calls and some adjustments. We’re still getting gashed a little bit, and we need to get a lot better, but I feel a lot better than I did walking off of KU’s field last week.”