SOLON — Many names are missing from last season’s historic defense, but expectations at Solon do not change.
The Spartans head into 2018 with designs on making another run to the UNI-Dome.
“The goal is always to win the championship,” senior linebacker Adam Bock said. “I think this group doesn’t have any other goal than that.”
The Spartans allowed just three touchdowns during the regular season in 2017 — a season that ended in the UNI-Dome, falling to Cedar Rapids Xavier in the Class 3A semifinals.
Gone from that group are all four starters on the defensive line, including Iowa freshmen Tyler Linderbaum.
But the Spartans expect to be strong on that side of the ball with the return of their two leading tacklers in linebackers Coal Flansburg and Bock, who are Iowa State and South Dakota State commits, respectively.
“Coal’s going to patrol and lead our defense,” Coach Kevin Miller said. “We need him to do a great job in that capacity.”
“We want to just uphold the guys ahead of us, the seniors last year and show them what we can do,” Flansburg said. “Coming back this year, me and Bock are a lot stronger. A lot of gaps from last year, but I think we can fill them.”
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The challenge in filling those gaps will be identifying new names who can control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
“Some guys need to surface as kind of those go-to-guys on both the offensive and defensive line,” Miller said. “It’s been a healthy competition to this point. We’ve got 10 or 12 guys that we can rotate in that (defensive line) position, but we just haven’t really had any guys surface at this point.”
The Spartans are looking candidates to rise to the challenge.
“I think this team really needs to work on just playing with the kind of intensity that we played with last year,” Bock said. “A really intense defense, just coming after people.”
“Physicality,” Flansburg said. “A lot of the guys who haven’t really been able to show what they can do with the guys from last year ahead of them definitely need physicality, I think.”
Physicality and intensity are two of the “uncommon” traits Miller preaches if the Spartans are to topple schools with enrollments more than twice the size of Solon’s.
“We’ve got to do things a little bit better,” Miller said. “Being the smallest school in 3A, we’ve got to be uncommon. We’re playing schools that are almost 800 enrollment, and we’re at 342. You’ve got to do things a certain way. That’s certainly something we’ve talked about that the kids have embraced, kind of that underdog role. Being small in enrollment, we can’t control that, but we can control how we practice, and how we improve in the things that we need to do day-in and day-out to get to where we want to go.”
The Spartans feel good about what they have returning at the skill positions.
“We’ve got a plethora of guys, honestly,” Miller said. “We’ve got eight or 10 athletes that I feel pretty good about.”
Miller’s son, Cam, returns at quarterback after throwing for 1,831 and 25 touchdowns as a sophomore.
“I think (Cam) has a much better understanding of what we’re trying to do,” Coach Miller said. “We’re going to give him more to process this year.”
Hunter Kula returns after rushing for 854 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago. Flansburg and Bock will be heavy contributors on the offensive side of the ball, as well.
Solon will compete in Class 3A District 6. All five opponents carry over from last season, a group Solon outscored by a combined, 225-7.
Coach: Kevin Miller (18th year at Solon, 174-32, 21st year overall, 181-61)
Last year: 11-1, (Class 3A District 5 champion, lost in playoff semifinals)
Top returners: QB Cam Miller, WR AJ Coons, LB Coal Flansburg, RB/LB Adam Bock, OL Rocky Lensing, OL Kale Altman, S Dillon Hoit, K Aidan Dall
Key losses: DL Tyler Linderbaum, DL Spencer Wegmann, DL Matt Folkers, RB Kendrick Harris, WR Payton Bandy
Key to making the playoffs: Identifying capable starters on the offensive and defensive lines.
Games to watch: Aug. 24 against Mount Vernon, Sept. 14 at Davenport Assumption and Sept. 28 against Washington
Aug 24 — Mount Vernon
Aug 31 — at West Liberty
Sept. 7 — Marion
Sept. 13 — at Assumption
Sept. 21 — at Fort Madison
Sept. 28 — Washington
Oct. 5 — Mount Pleasant
Oct. 12 — at Keokuk
Oct. 19 — Fairfield