After winning the Division 7 state title last year, New Lothrop football coach Clint Galvas had one thing on his mind.
“We didn’t get off the field last year before we were saying, ‘Dude, let’s do that again.’ It was literally like that,” he recalled. “We weren’t on the buses before we were saying, that was awesome, but I can’t wait to do that again.”
The same goes for Morrice coach Kendall Crockett, whose team won the 8-Man Division 1 title last year.
“I feel hungrier as a coach to get back, because I know what it’s like for the kids. I know what it was like for Morrice,” he said. “We want to get back there.”
The Orioles and Hornets open their state title defenses with tonight’s 2019 season openers.
Both coaches say the celebrations are long done, with this year’s teams working to both emerge from the shadow of a championship while striving to repeat.
“Most years, you lose in the playoffs and it’s like, ‘Remember that loss,’” Galvas said. “You have to have that mental image of the scoreboard. We were constantly bringing that stuff up. This year, it’s ‘Remember that feeling last year? Remember how great that was? Let’s go get it again.’”
New Lothrop will try to do so with a bevy of returning skill players, including quarterback Avery Moore, while breaking in four-fifths of a new offensive line.
Morrice has a bigger challenge, replacing 15 seniors and 15 of its 16 starters from last year.
“You have to keep reminding the kids who are on the team right now that only one of you (Shane Cole) played and started for that team last year,” Crockett said. “Connor Lucas is not walking through that door. Hunter Nowak is not walking through that door. We are a new team, a new family. Same goal, but we have to make the adjustments we need to as coaches, and the players have to be receptive.”
To get to where they were last year, Crockett says, his players have to put last year behind them.
To that point, the Orioles worked out in T-shirts that had “SOS” on their backs — for Same Old Situation.
“We need to come out with the same fire as last year,” he said. “We need to come out with the same intensity as last year, and there are going to be teams gunning for us, just like they did last year. It’s going to be the same old situation.”
Galvas, whose team was 13-1 last year, sees the season as a process.
“We’re happy with where we are now, because we keep building and growing,” he said after the first week of workouts. “As we get better each week and take care of business and make it into Week 10, we’re going to be ready to roll at that point. These guys have a lot of confidence.”
For Morrice, which went 13-0 (the 8-man postseason is one week shorter than the 11-man playoffs), the Orioles will try to craft another successful run with the bullseye earned by last year’s team.
“We’ll take that,” Crockett said. “Obviously, after winning the state championship, people will be gunning for us. They want to knock off the state champs. We’ve done that as well. When Deckerville went to the finals (in 2017) and were the runners-up, we knew going into last year’s game that we wanted to beat them. They knocked us out of the playoffs the year before.
“Those teams, the top 10, they all have bullseyes on their backs,” Crockett continued. “We’re fortunate enough that we’re one of those teams on the top, and we’re hoping to stay there for at least one more year.”
At New Lothrop, which has made the postseason every year since 2000, expectations are always high.
“We know what our goal is,” Galvas said. “The boys know. Week 1 (at Lake City, whom New Lothrop beat in the semifinals last year) is where our focus is at.
“The high (of winning) lasted a long time,” he continued. “We lived it up for three months, and it was great. But now it’s a new season, a new team. It lasted a little while, but when it was time to get going, it was time to get going.”
One benefit of a long playoff run that sometimes gets overlooked is the experience that four or five extra weeks of practice brings.
“Avery Moore has three seasons under his belt, counting the playoff games the last couple of years,” Galvas said. “It goes a long way for these young guys, too. They came up and got five games in last year, and a lot of them saw the field in addition to practice.
“Our team is a bunch of awesome kids you like to be around,” he added. “If you have a team that puts forth effort, effort, effort, it’s easy to coach. That’s what we’ve got this year. We’re going to win some games this year, don’t get me wrong, but we’re going to have fun. It’s going to be a fun year.”
As for Morrice, Crockett says his team’s prospects for success are squarely on his players’ shoulders.
“It all depends on the kids,” he said. “Do they stay healthy? Do they buy in? Do they come in willing to work hard, understanding that that bull’s-eye is on their back? If we do, we’re going to be fine. We’re going to be a tough out on the schedule, but at the same time, we can be beat if we don’t bring our ‘A’ game.”