Our Boys, a season with the Smith Center (Kans.) Redmen
An except from Our Boys, the modern day Friday Night Lights in the heartland
Smith Center boasts the nation's longest winning streak at 67 games
With old-school values, hard work and dedication, Smith Center builds champions
From the Book OUR BOYS: A Perfect Season on the Plains With the Smith Center Redmen by Joe Drape. Copyright © 2009 by Joe Drape. Reprinted by arrangement with Times Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. All rights reserved.
A steady rain fell from dark clouds, submerging an already underwater practice field. Inside the Hubbard football complex, Coach Barta did not have his full team. He was missing 11 of his players, including most of his starting backfield. Marshall, the Rempes, and eight others were in Osborne performing in a vocal concert as members of the Chansonaires. These were not the ideal conditions for preparing for the toughest game of the season.
The lights were off, and the La Crosse-St. Francis film was projected on the screen. Coach Barta's unmistakable silhouette -- arms crossed over cascading stomach -- formed an eclipse over the flickering images.
On the laps of the Redmen was a 22-page scouting report of the La Crosse team that Coach Barta and his staff believed was the Rosetta Stone for defeating the Leopards. The staff had spent nine hours in the NASA Lab on Sunday identifying offensive and defensive keys and finding weaknesses to attack when the Redmen traveled south on Friday to play La Crosse.
The Leopards were blessed with speed at all the skill positions. Jeremy Garcia was the best quarterback they had seen all year, completing 64 percent of his passes for more than 1,000 yards.
Cory Torrez and Scot Irvin were burners at wide receiver. In the backfield, Marcus Moeder was a 142-pound tailback who had gained nearly 900 yards simply by running past people.
Then there was Marshall Musil. He had gained 1,067 yards because he was fast and powerful. He could catch and averaged better than 15 yards a reception. He blocked like a road grader and was responsible not only for his accomplishments but also for Moeder's yards and often for Garcia's time in the pocket. He was smart, too. Marshall's late father, Terry Musil, had coached down the road at Osborne, and Coach Barta had known and liked him very much. Terry had died from cancer when Marshall was a little boy. Coach Barta had gotten to see Marshall at track meets, and he was impressed with the young man and how his mother, Connie, and sister, Meredith, had formed a tight unit around him.
Coach Barta had heard that Marshall had attended summer camps at the University of Oklahoma, and that the Sooners' coaching staff knew immediately that they had a future "H-back" in their midst. From what he had seen, Coach Barta agreed: Marshall Musil was strong, athletic, and smart. He also had the coach's son's knack of not making mistakes.
The Leopards' coach, Ryan Cornelsen, was also a coach's son. His father, Gary, had won four state championships at Liberal High School in southwestern Kansas, and Ryan had put together a 51-13 record over six seasons at La Crosse.
Just 36 years old, Cornelsen was confident and enthusiastic and straightforward enough to approach Coach Barta and Big Hutch at a state coaching convention to ask to pick their brains. It is a common practice in the coaching fraternity, and Coach Barta and Big Hutch were flattered. So in a hotel room in Wichita, Cornelsen played game film of the Redmen offense and asked them how they would stop their own offense. They liked his boldness.
Then they proceeded to run down the different defenses they had encountered over the past 30 years, and how they had steamrolled them anyway. Coach Barta and Big Hutch knew that it was likely they would face La Crosse again. It didn't matter. They had enjoyed the session, admired Cornelsen's passion, and believed he was going to be a terrific coach for years to come.
When Coach Barta sat at the computer earlier in the afternoon to draft the theme for this week of preparation, he was revved up. Coaching in big games, finding weaknesses on film, and exploiting them on the field were among the most gratifying parts of his profession. He knew exactly what points he needed to emphasize to his players.
1. We have a game. You must get ready. A real test.
He also knew how to take apart the Leopards. It was all there in those 22 pages, and his staff was jazzed about it, especially Brock. Little Hutch saw the keys to shutting down La Crosse's high flying offense so clearly that here on Monday he was already in his evangelical pregame mode.
"We've done the heavy lifting all year, gentlemen," he said. "We have worked hard. This is a mental week, a week where we are going to keep our head in the game and outthink our opponents. You're going to study. Out on the practice field, we're going to recognize things and talk to each other.
"By Friday night, I guarantee you that we will know where they are going before the ball is snapped. Very simply, gentleman, you need to know where No. 2 and No. 56 are because they will lead you to the play. So, listen up."