LAINGSBURG — After three consecutive 8-win seasons, the Laingsburg football team entered a most unwelcome fraternity last year: Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda.
That came after a 4-5 season that left a sour taste in the Wolfpack’s mouths.
“We had a few games where we put together some really nice drives,” senior A.J. Eggleston said, “but we weren’t able to accomplish our goal in all four quarters, and we fell short in a couple games we should have had.”
Wolfpack coach Brian Borgman had another explanation.
“We had four seniors who contributed last year,” he said. “We had a ton of juniors and it seemed like every team we played was loaded with seniors last year. We were undersized and undermanned.”
That, he said, is not the case this year, and Borgman sees a new determination in his players going into the 2019 season.
“We have 14 seniors coming back, kids who have a lot of experience and didn’t like the way last season went down,” Borgman said. “The previous three seasons Laingsburg made the playoffs and won playoff games. This senior class doesn’t want to be the one that goes through two years of varsity football and never makes it to the playoffs.
“So I think they’re very motivated by that,” he continued. “We have 14 seniors who are going to be really good contributors. Almost all of them played last year, and I’m really excited about that.”
The Wolfpack will have a junior transfer from Perry at quarterback in Doug Mathews.
“His first game in a Laingsburg uniform will be on his old field against his old team,” Borgman said. “Hopefully he can calm down and run the show.”
The rest of the show includes Eggleston, who also is the backup quarterback. He also can line up at wide receiver in Laingsburg’s spread. Zach Hawes and Lucas Woodruff, both juniors, have good speed and size, and they will be joined by Austin Randall and Ethan Fleming.
“(Randall) is a strong kid who’s a big target and runs the ball hard after he catches it,” Borgman said.
The offensive line has four returning starters in Gavin Grinstern, Parker Gregg, Logan Hagerty and Jake Hummel.
“It’s a good nucleus coming back,” Borgman said. “These returning kids have played our system, know our system and believe in each other.”
With less than two dozen players on the roster, most of the starters will play both ways.
“It’s iron man around here,” Borgman said. “That’s Class C football. That’s how I grew up playing. When I was growing up, there weren’t more than 20 of 30 guys on our team, and we all played both ways. We just did.”
Part of the challenge of two-way football, Borgman said, is to make sure systems are kept simple.
“Your defensive scheme can’t be too complex,” he said. “The same with your offense. You do your installation on Monday, then lift and run and watch film. Tuesdays you work on offense, Wednesdays you do defense and Thursdays you’re doing your pregame. We don’t have the luxury of doing five days of offense or defense. We have to coach on the fly.”
But Borgman adds this year’s Wolfpack has a strong bond, a crucial factor when the chips are down.
“These kids, to a ‘T,’ are really good friends,” he said. “The core group of these guys, if I go to any one of their houses, I’ll probably find 10 of them there, hanging out with each other. They went to the same elementary school, same middle school, and the same high school. This is their 13th year together and the last time playing football, so they’re having fun and playing for each other.”
That experience and camaraderie, Borgman says, should fuel a bounce-back season for the Wolfpack in 2019.
“Pewamo-Westphalia is going to be the class (of the Central Michigan Athletic Conference), and until someone unseats the kid, they’re hands down the favorite,” he said. “I think Fowler’s going to be good this year. They were loaded with juniors and beat us in a close game last year. Dansville’s down. Saranac’s down. We have a lot of seniors, so we’ll be up.
“We have a chance to finish in the top two or three in the league,” Borgman added. That’s our goal, to finish in the top 1, 2, or 3 and get back to the playoffs.”
Last year, the Wolfpack had a nightmare start, losing five of their first six before winning the last three games.
“We have to have a fast start,” he said. “A fast start, getting a win against Perry (tonight) will be huge.”
Borgman also put in a pitch for the Ramblers to join the CMAC at some point. The Ramblers’ current conference, the Greater Lansing Activities Conference, is losing Vermontville Maple Valley to eight-man football and has another in Lansing Christian that does not sponsor football.
“I would personally like to see Perry join the CMAC,” he said. “I think they would be a very good fit and be very competitive, more competitive than the league they’re in right now.”
For now though, the Wolfpack will deal with the CMAC on its own after tonight’s game at Perry.
“There’s not a week we can take off,” Eggleston said. “But I like it because it gets you prepared once you get into the postseason, because you know you can’t take a week off then.”
He added last year’s disappointment has fueled this year’s seniors.
“It’s something you think about as the season ends,” Eggleston said. “The postseason starts and you’re watching everyone else play while you’re in the stands. It makes you want to put the work in from the very beginning and not just jump in when it comes to game time.”