SOLON — The Solon football program enters a new era.
The tenure of longtime Spartans Coach Kevin Miller came to an end after last season. Now, Lucas Stanton holds the reins of the perennial power with five state championships and 10 finals appearances.
“I don’t know if I feel the pressure,” said Stanton, who previously coached at North Cedar and Anamosa. “I know I’m not Kevin Miller. I’m not going to try to be Kevin Miller. I think we have some similarities as what we’re about.
“Anytime you come into a program like this with high expectations, as a coach, that’s what you live for. You want to have those expectations.”
Solon will compete in Class 2A for the first time since 2009, following a 12-1 season and 3A state runner-up finish. The Spartans return only seven starters and nine letterwinners for a transition season made more challenging by COVID-19 and the storm that rocked Eastern Iowa last week.
“I’m liking it,” Solon senior Jackson Ryan said. “I’m getting a good feel. It’s going to be a little different.
“I’m very excited to see what this season holds.”
The program has adopted a fitting mantra for a program.
“Our thing has been ‘adapt and overcome’ anything that comes at us,” Stanton said. “I think our kids are handling it very well. It’s made for a different type of transition. It wasn’t the ideal transition I would have imagined in another year.”
Stanton has led by example. He has exhibited that ability to adjust and get things done.
“It’s probably the toughest thing it could be for him to come into a new program with all these challenges,” Solon senior Colton Hoffman said. “I think he’s done a great job rolling with all the punches.”
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Early interaction was via Zoom and phone. It took a while to build the coach-player relationships. They finally received the go-ahead to meet in person late in July and started to gel. Stanton connected with seniors, discussing how he prefers a player-led team and encouraging them to assist with the switch.
“Our core group of guys have taken that mentality,” Stanton said. “They’ve just gone into ‘We’re not trying to change anything.’”
Some of the coaching staff remained from a year ago. Stanton said he knew how good they were, and they have proved it. They have been invaluable to Stanton and Solon.
“They have been great,” Stanton said. “They have made the early-on stuff fantastic. They’ve done a great job of helping the overall situation.
“They’re going to be a big part of our success. They’ve been phenomenal.”
Graduation depleted the starting lineup, especially on the offensive side. The Spartans have reloaded in the past. They expect to do so again.
“We have a lot to prove as a team,” Hoffman said. “We lost our head coach. We lost three (NCAA Division) I players. We’re still the team that was the 3A runner-up. I think a lot of guys have taken that underdog mentality.”
The Spartans will employ a different offense this season, trading in a potent pass game for a run-oriented attack with versatile runners and a strong, experienced offensive line. They have become acclimated to the new scheme that fits their personnel well.
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“They were threats downfield and they could do that,” Ryan said about former QB Cam Miller and receivers A.J. Coons and Jace Andregg. “We don’t have those guys anymore, so we have to change it up. This fits us a lot better.”
One constant will be a stout defense that might just be Solon’s bread and butter. The unit is anchored by a strong linebacker corps, including Hoffman, Carson Shive and Lucas TePoel, and a promising line. The secondary should be in good shape with Ryan and Bo Janssen at safety.
“It starts with defense,” Ryan said. “We have to have a good defensive year, and I think we will.”
For many reasons, this isn’t a normal season. The pandemic caused uncertainty and a natural disaster wreaked havoc. The Spartans won’t take anything for granted as they look to make the most of this inaugural season with Stanton.
“I told a couple of our guys the first weekend of camp that we need to play every single practice like it was our last, because it really could be,” Hoffman said. “We don’t know how many guys could come down with covid tomorrow and our season’s done or the state’s going to cancel it tomorrow. We get two games in. We don’t know. We’ll treat every game like it’s our last.”
Solon, at a glance
Coach: Lucas Stanton (1st year at Solon; 5th year, 10-26 overall)
Last year: 12-1, Class 3A state runner-up
Top returners: OL/DL Nash Altman, OL/DL Zach Harp, LB/RB/WR Colton Hoffman, DB/QB Bo Janssen, OL/DL Erich Karstens, WR/CB Danny Knezevich, DB/RB Jackson Ryan, LB Carson Shive, RB/LB Lucas TePoel
Aug. 28 — Williamsburg
Sept. 4 — Washington (Iowa)
Sept. 11 — at Union Community
Sept. 18 — South Tama
Sept. 25 — Vinton-Shellsburg
Oct. 2 — Mount Vernon
Oct. 9 — at Center Point-Urbana
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