Sumner High football went into its summer camp at Fife High last week with one message to convey to the rest of the teams present: The Spartans are a top-ten program in Class 3A.
It’s a message Sumner coach Keith Ross wants his players to go into the summer break thinking as they progress through their weight room workouts. It’s the mindset the Spartans will need if they hope to shed the memory of difficult losses from a season ago.
“We feel that in three days, the kids get quality reps … we get to simulate game speed against opponents that we can’t do at practice,” Ross said. “A lot of our kids haven’t experienced the speed of varsity yet.”
The camp at Fife High was a start in putting the past behind them — especially the losses that sting the most.
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Last-minute losses to Auburn Mountainview (42-35 on Sept. 25), Peninsula (26-20 on Oct. 3) and Auburn (31-30 on Oct. 9) in consecutive weeks hurt the Spartans. And when Sumner suffered a 28-10 loss to Lakes to make it four straight, the Spartans were limping before rebounding to make the playoffs.
From what Ross saw from his players at these camps during last August, the Sumner team that finished 6-5 was not the team he envisioned.
“We definitely have a lot of talent ready to go the next few years,” said Ross about the program’s future. “(Yet) we graduated four (offensive) linemen and a quarterback. This camp is vital for that because we can see who can do that and who can’t.”
Offense was never really an issue for Sumner last fall, and Ross believes it won’t be one come the fall. It was the defense not playing up to the offense’s level.
It’s a self-admitted issue many players feel they need address this summer. If the offense looks to be just as effective — if not better than last season —then the Spartan defense will need to not allow last-minute losses that encapsulate a season.
No one can fault the unpredictability that aided in Sumner’s losses, but times like these are when a team can overcome them and grow together for better fall football.
“We’re here because we need to become closer to our family,” defensive tackle Jake Harmon said. “I know I just need to get better … working out here on the 1-on-1s with the d-linemen, I know I’m getting prepared for next season.”
“I feel if we’re not going with 100-percent intensity right from the start, and they let off one big play, that’s when (people) get fired up,” Riley said.
When there is a great connection among teammates, the ability to feed off your team’s momentum gets stronger, players say.
“Especially when a big hit is made, then we’re all fired up and flying to be the ball,” Riley said.
Extra emphasis and extra work was focused on Sumner’s projected first unit on defensive during last week. Time and again, Ross was seen prowling around hammering home the point of camp. Teams will be bringing the fight to Sumner next season, so if the Spartans believe they’re a top-ten program, it starts now.
“Ross has been yelling ‘intensity’ at us all camp … we’re learning to step up to be our own leaders and our own self-motivators,” Riley said.
“We’re definitely self-motivators, and it’s something we’ve learned working hard together,” Harmon said.
As Sumner heads into the break, players will do it with one thought on their minds: proving the Spartans are what they believe to be.
“This is going to be the fastest defense I’ve had, with the three fastest kids in school playing in our defensive backfield,” Ross said. “We’ll be undersized upfront, but we’ll use speed to get to the ball and keep teams out of the end zone.”