SPRINGVILLE — The last two seasons have been a learning experience for Springville’s seniors.
Many of them were thrust into the lineup as sophomores, going 3-7. They returned to the lineup a year ago, finishing 5-5 in a loaded district with three playoff qualifiers.
The veteran group now will attempt to transform those growing pains into success.
The Orioles are looking for their first playoff appearance since 2015 and open the 8-player season Friday at Winfield-Mount Union.
“We return an awful lot of experience, not only from last year, but about five seniors we have this year started as sophomores,” said Springville Coach Joe Martin, who has led the Orioles to three postseasons in eight years at the helm. “We were pretty young a couple years ago, so I think the experience factor is going to play a big part.”
Springville returns 10 offensive and defensive starters combined. Six are seniors. They have aspirations for a memorable finish.
“We have a lot of high expectations, looking to win our district and make the playoffs,” senior quarterback Kyle Koppes said. “Our big goal is we want to go out on a high note.”
Koppes will begin his third season under center for the Orioles. He earned first-team all-district honors last season, passing for 1,769 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also rushed for 373 yards and three scores.
Martin said a three-year starter at quarterback is a luxury many teams don’t have.
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“We’ve been able to work on things with him,” Martin said. “Obviously, maturity from sophomore to a senior is a huge step. Just being able to do a lot more things and honestly it’s now almost like having another coach on the field.”
In addition to Koppes, Springville brings back leading rusher Spencer DeMean, who amassed 512 yards and eight TDs on 75 carries as a sophomore. Senior Jacob Hungate is back after adding 201 yards and a TD on the ground.
Leading receiver Zach March graduated and left a big hole to fill, but the other six Orioles to catch a pass in 2018 are back, including Caleb Weber and DeMean. They combined for 42 catches, 759 yards and 15 scores.
Koppes will be asked to throw vertically and thread the needle in tighter spots this season.
“He’s gotten better with his arm strength,” Martin said. “As a sophomore, we weren’t able to stretch the field as much, which you’re going to have more success if you can do that in 8-player. You can’t have everybody sit up by the line.”
In addition to his knowledge and physical skills, Martin praised Koppes for his composure. He said he has a short memory and approaches each play the same. The mentality rubs off on teammates.
“You don’t really notice if it was a good or bad play with him,” Martin said. “The kids notice that a lot. I think that is a huge component at the quarterback spot.”
Koppes has demonstrated stronger leadership this season. Martin said he has noticed more command in the huddle. Koppes has assumed more control and said this season is different.
“I feel like I have more leadership than ever,” Koppes said. “I feel like since I have so much experience that being able to lead and try to get people going is easier. It’s definitely better.”
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Defensively, Springville returns its top seven tacklers. Weber led the way with 66 1/2 tackles with a team-high 12 solo for loss. Grant Gloeckner had 48 tackles and Jack Hoogland added 11 solo tackles for loss and seven sacks.
The Orioles don’t have size, but will use their versatility and quickness to keep the opposition off balance.
“We have a lot of athletic kids that can do different things,” Martin said. “In high school, if you can mix and match things it will help quite a bit.”
The Orioles hit the weight room hard in the offseason and meshed training with competition in other sports.
Many players are multisport athletes and competed as a group in other sports. They have built a strong bond throughout the seasons, building friendships and hanging out in and out of practices.
“We think that has helped a lot,” Martin said. “I think to have the opportunity to continually play together and grow as a group is important.”
Martin said Friday is a chance to see if all the work in the offseason and last two years will start to come to fruition. The Orioles have talked about their goals and prepared themselves to achieve them.
“Everybody’s goal at the beginning of the year is to make the playoffs,” Martin said. “I really think that these guys have made a concerted effort to follow through with that and not just say it. They have put in the time and effort.”
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