The game of football is a tough one, especially at the high school level. You can’t hand pick certain players you want. You can’t even guarantee that every kid will even go out for football.
While numbers are on the low side for the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted football team, there’s a few things that aren’t. Despite a 0-3 start to the season, in which the Lakers average margin of loss is 24 points, the Lakers never stop fighting and competing.
I got my second look at the Lakers Friday night, and even though they lost by 28 points to the Melrose Dutchmen, I thoroughly enjoyed watching those kids compete. Sure, it wasn’t the most competitive or exciting game, but I saw a lot of things that you just don’t see too often when it comes to high school sports.
The Lakers gave up multiple big plays in the loss to the Dutchmen. After playing well on first and second down, it just seemed liked they could never finish off a drive and get off the field as the Dutchmen would find a way to make a big play. Part of that is lack of experience on the field, and some of it is just execution.
The Dutchmen had four touchdowns of 25 yards or longer in the game. Since several younger players on defense are getting their first taste of varsity football, mistakes and breakdowns are bound to happen. That’s no surprise at all.
The biggest surprise I saw throughout the game and this season thus far, is the leadership from the seniors and upperclassmen.
After giving up bigs plays, there was no yelling at the younger player who messed up and making him feel bad. There wasn’t any bullying or mean comments. It was a simple pat on the back, a keep your head up, and make the next play.
I love standing on the sidelines at football games to hear things like that. You can hear these kids who will grow into young men soon deal with success and failure in a matter of seconds. To put it simply, I was blown away by the character and poise of the seniors on the HLWW football team. Players like Nick McAlpline, Nate Heuer, and Brandon Karels were just a few that I heard, and I’m sure there are many more I missed. I have no doubt that Brock Bangasser, Devon Decker, Logan Iverson, A.J. Fie, Daniel Hoffman, and Dylan Renken were saying and preaching the same things.
I was very impressed by those seniors and how they handled themselves. It could be a long year for Lakers as they play in one of the toughest districts in the area. They could go 0-8. They could win a game or two down the stretch. They could get hot in the section playoffs and make a run. Who knows what will happen with the Lakers.
What I do know is this. The seniors and other leaders on the HLWW football team will be fine young men when they graduate high school.
Losing is tough. It’s not fun, and it’s not fun to lose by 20+ points each game. Even with that, the Lakers have fought and battled for all four quarters and haven’t blamed each other. That can be very hard to do, especially for a senior.
This is the last year of high school football that those seniors will play. They are only guaranteed two more home games to play on their home field in front of their family and friends. It’s tough to keep the attitude they have now, when they’re losing games, and younger players are having to step in and take on key roles.
Allowing those younger players to step in and learn the game of varsity football will only help the HLWW football program going forward. The seniors might not leave with a district title or state championship this season, but if they leave with attitude they’ve had this season thus far, they’ll be leaving the program in a much better place.
“It was kind of a wake-up call when Watertown came looking for a co-op,” HLWW football coach Ben Anderson said following the Melrose game. “We were short numbers, and we needed everybody. This is important. We needed to change the way they think. We needed to change the way we act. They’ve done a fantastic job of that. They’re the reason we have 30-some kids out. They went out and recruited and got some players. It’s awesome. We love the atmosphere and the fans notice it, too. The kids play hard for four quarters, regardless of the score. We want to clean up mistakes, but they’re playing hard.”
The seniors have been accepting of the younger players stepping in, and they know just how important it is to do that.
“It’s super important,” Anderson said. “Looking ahead toward the end of the season, they know they need these kids to step up and play. If they bury them and they’re hard on them, it’s just going to make their senior season, or the whole team’s season worse. They’ve been very understanding.”
Hats off to the seniors and leaders of the HLWW football team this season. They’ve shown that they’re not only talented athletes that are fun to watch, but even better people with a bright future ahead of them in the game of life.
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