A charged state

A play-off preview

A new head coach. Four out of eight new assistant coaches. A new underclassman quarterback. A new surface to play on. The varsity football team had to adapt.

The Wildcat football program has overcome its fair share of challenges this year with great success.

Jacob Sumner, first-year head coach, has gotten off to a very impressive start.

Under his leadership the Wildcats have had a remarkable undefeated season, a Suburban West Conference Championship and the number one seed throughout the playoffs.

“Going into this season we knew a lot of people thought we were going to struggle,” Tyler Winders, cornerback, said. “Coach Sumner has really done a great job from summer workouts to Saturdays before games to team bonding, that we are a unit. That–in my opinion–is a big part of why we are undefeated.”

Players are not only responding to the young coach on the field but off it as well.

“He’s done great. He’s brought us all together as a family” Matt Wuelling, varsity

special teams, said. “He’s made our band of brothers tighter than it ever has been.”

Spending three hours a day together on the field and even more time off the field during the weekends. Both Saturday games required all 94 players to be at school at 7:15 a.m. to catch the bus. Between the bus ride, warm-ups, the game and the ride home, the players often spend more time with each other than many of their family members.

Coach Sumner helps promote this family feeling by trusting the players to make the best decisions in tough game situations.

“He’s let us be ourselves,” Adam Biles, varsity offensive guard explained. “He really lets us play loose and play our game.”

Coach Sumner was the ability to assess players strengths and weakness and capitalize on those strengths. Derrick Clemons, wide receiver and special teams, often fields kickoff returns that don’t require the massive memorization of set plays and lets Clemons unleash his state-champion track speed and agility on the turf.

Embracing his players’ personality, Coach Sumner empowers Tanner Sobotka, offensive and defensive lineman, to lead the team in those rituals that tie a group of individual players into a team with the “Play. Football.” slogan and other pre-game chants.

These teammates could dwell on their triumphs.

“It’s been great. We have a great group of kids, and I’m more happy for them than myself,” Coach Sumner said. “A lot of hard work goes into the wins, and it’s really exciting to see those guys have such a great season. But the biggest part of the year is coming up.”

After experiencing a huge opening win against Lafayette, the Wildcats have continued to dominate by taking down other teams, including two shutouts along the way.

“The number one thing for this defense so far has been preparation,” Coach Tyler Wasson, defensive backs, said. “They work really hard during the week, and that preparation pays dividends on the field.”

On the other side of the ball, the offensive line has led Alec Hagan and Hassan Haskins, running backs, to a combined 1,547 yards and 17 TDs.

“The offensive line is honestly incredible,” Hagan said. “I’d put them as one of the best lines in the state. They get a five-yard push every time I run.”

As for goals in the upcoming playoffs, the Wildcats have always had one goal in mind, and that’s to be State champions, according to Ravion Brown, varsity linebacker.

Despite the storied past of the football program, a State Football Championship has always eluded the Wildcats.

“Winning the state championship would mean everything to us,” Brennen DeLaney, varsity center, said. “The players. The coaches. The community.”

The Wildcats begin the playoff portion of their quest against the 1-8 Seckman Jaguars, Oct. 23.

“At this point in the year, you’ve got to worry about everybody because if you lose once you go home,” Sumner said. “We just have to take it one week at a time and play our game.”

If the Wildcats can take down the Jaguars, they will play the winner of the Marquette (7-2)/Mehlville (3-6) game. The Mustangs already dominated the Panthers this year, 52-0.

The Wildcats and the Mustangs have already seen each other this year. The Wildcats won that game, 38-21.

With the reality of win-or-go home playoffs, the Wildcats have to show up with their best stuff.

“You have to know that when you lose, you go home.” DeLaney said. “We have to keep that in our minds. But other than that, our mindset is the same. We want to play our game.” 

Team goals. Run the ball. Don’t give up the deep pass. Play as a team. Play the game. “PLAY. FOOTBALL.”