116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
SOLON — Solon senior Lucas Kampman recalled the team’s preseason cookout.
Players, coaches and even some family members all gather, grill up tasty steaks and burgers and talk some shop, which usually consists of goals, expectations and testimonials about the program. Whether it was the food, fun or camaraderie, the Spartans took away something that impacted their entire season.
“I feel like that was one of the big turning points for our team where we really came together,” Kampman said. “One of the things that is special about this team than maybe other teams or teams of the past is there is no real entitlement.
“We’re all working together as a team and out to accomplish a common goal. I think that is what sets us apart.”
Third-ranked Solon gelled from that moment and has reaped the rewards of a close-knit team, going 11-0 and reaching the Class 3A state football semifinals for the second time in three seasons. The Spartans face No. 2 Boyden-Hull/Rock Valley (11-0) Saturday at the UNI-Dome at 4 p.m.
“We’re all really excited,” Spartans senior Carson Miller said. “We’ve had a lot of fun this season.
“Obviously, our football program has been to the Dome numerous times. As kids watching that, it has always been a goal to get to the Dome ourselves. I think accomplishing that has been really fun for us.”
Solon Coach Lucas Stanton remembers the August cookout at Legion Park, including the visit to The Moving Wall, a traveling half-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that came to Solon for five days. Players listened to talks from some of the veterans. The impact could be felt the following day at practice, which was the first day in full pads and an intrasquad scrimmage.
“We had a really good scrimmage,” Stanton said. “It was one of our better practices. The energy was (different). It had a big impact on our kids. Coach (Aaron) Hadenfeldt and I talked afterward and we thought this group could be special.”
Stanton noted that the senior class hasn’t always been this dominant. Wins weren’t as common in junior high, but they continued to work and improve each season. With an influx of young talent, the seniors have posted their best record in their final campaign. Stanton expressed the need to be positive and rely on some of the underclassmen, which the seniors took to heart.
“I don’t think there were a lot of people outside of their group that counted them as a UNI-Dome contender,” Stanton said. “I think they’ve always had a chip on their shoulders but not in a disrespectful way. They just had something to prove.
“One of the coolest things to see is how those guys were accepting of our younger guys. It makes it easier when those younger guys are hard-working and have great attitudes as well. It was a team effort.”
The bond they share benefits them on the field. Not only are they inspired to fight just a bit harder for one another, but they are able to trust teammates are take care of their responsibilities.
“No player feels they have to do more than they have to,” Miller said. “Everyone does their own individual job. It makes it work.”
The relationships aren’t restricted to the football field or practices. It extends to school and team dinners. The Spartans can be found in school hanging out or having fun.
The weekly dinner was going to be at a nearby mall to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Kampman shared an example of those meals.
“A funny story was the time we went to Pizza Ranch,” Kampman said. “I pulled up and like the whole Solon football team was playing in the arcade. Just keeping that level of fun.”
Seniors like Kampman, Miller, Gage Marty, Cayden Knipper, Jake Quillin, who has been sidelined due to injury, and junior Blake Timmons have played an active role on the program’s leadership council. Other seniors like Parker Pentico, Logan Sieverding and Mike Pipolo have worked together to provide leadership for the team.
“I would say they are collective,” Stanton said. “It’s hard to pick one guy above the rest because they have all done a great job.”
No surprise that the players have grown up together and have been close over the years. This season has allowed them to mesh even more than the past, creating a unified group, regardless of class.
“It’s the best team chemistry I have ever been around on a sports team or group I’ve been a part of, in general,” Miller said. “We all get along really well. I think that helps on the field, too. We never get on each other in a game. We always pick each other up and are there for one another, which helps to keep everyone’s mind right. It has been a big help to us this season.”
The Spartans have faced challenges but that is when they seem to rally around each other. Miller, Kampman and Stanton noted the Mount Vernon game was key. Solon trailed 21-7 and came back for a 41-27 victory. Grinnell led 10-0 but the Spartans rebounded for a 35-17 win.
“We weren’t playing as great as we wanted to in both those games,” Miller said. “We had to make sure everyone was keeping their heads right and no one was getting down on themselves, because if they do they won’t play as well as they would if they kept their heads up and were confident.”
The Spartans average 42.8 points per game, allowing just 12.5 for a 30.3 differential. They will face a tough task with BHRV, which scores more than 46 and surrenders just 10 per contest. Stanton said Solon will have to limit the big plays of BHRV’s explosive offense and handle the aggressive and athletic defense.
“I know we’re really excited for the opportunity,” Stanton said. “Our kids are a confident group right now.”
The Spartans find that confidence in each other.