Wanted: Bigger, faster, stronger
In assessing his team’s recently completed 3-6 season, Bonner Springs football coach Lew Kasselman wasted no time identifying the problems that plagued his team throughout the season.
“We need to get bigger, stronger and faster,” Kasselman said after the Braves’ season-ending 51-0 loss to Topeka Seaman. “Our kids need to focus on training in the offseason to get bigger.”
Strength and size were in limited supply for the Braves in 2009. Just two years ago, those same qualities helped the Braves climb to the top of the KVL and post an 8-1 regular-season record.
The Braves leaned on a senior class that was small in numbers but big on experience to lead it, and that class provided most of the playmakers. Senior quarterback Brandon Eastland guided the offense, and senior running back Max Barren pounded out more than 1,000 yards rushing this season. Meanwhile, senior Jake Barren headlined the Braves’ defense.
The Braves’ lack of size and strength came primarily because the handful of seniors were surrounded by numerous sophomores and juniors who were getting their first taste of varsity football.
The difference in size was evident in line play. Kasselman was worried coming into the year about his largely inexperienced line, both on offense and defense, and his fears were realized.
Eastland ran for his life much of the season, sometimes with three defenders chasing him. When he did have time, he was able to find open receivers with his big arm, but that did not happen regularly. Kasselman moved the pocket for him and designed quick passes as the season progressed, but Eastland was still rushed on most pass attempts.
Meanwhile, for all of the punishment Max Barren doled out while running over defenders, he also sustained plenty of punishment while creating his own space to run.
Kasselman pointed out that strength also factors into endurance, and that was evident as the Braves usually played their best football in the first half before wearing down during the final two quarters.
The bumps and bruises weren’t totally surprising to Kasselman. He’d hoped the Braves would have more success, but he knew his team — and his line in particular — were young and inexperienced. Kasselman expected it to be a season where a lot of learning and teaching would take place. That happened. The question now is whether the lessons learned — coupled with offseason commitment from the players — will pay off down the road.
With 2009 in the books, Kasselman is looking forward to what he brings back in 2010. Junior Lucas Porras, Bonner’s biggest returning playmaker, will look to lead the team along with impact sophomores JJ Jackson and Jourdaine Smallwood.
Porras was Eastland’s go-to receiver as the season wore on. He also was an excellent kick returner who routinely gave the Braves good field position.
Jackson missed the early portion of the season with an injury — something opposing coaches such as Basehor-Linwood’s Steve Hopkins made note of — but when he was healthy he proved to be electrifying with the ball in his hands.
Smallwood, listed at 5-foot-6, is the lead candidate to take the quarterback job next season.
“We had some sophomores that played a lot this year. A year of experience for the line will help, but we also had a bunch of young guys in the secondary. There were times that we had three sophomores out in coverage this year,” Kasselman said.
Experience can only take a team so far in Class 5A football, though. Ultimately, a big part of success in high school football comes down to being bigger, faster and stronger.
“We need to focus on weight training and work harder to put on some weight,” Kasselman said. “It is hard for some of the kids to keep weight on because they are so active in other activities, so it will continue to be a challenge.”