No matter how much talent you have, no matter what kind of schedule you play, in Class 6A football, averaging 10 wins a season to start your career is impressive.
Joe Schartz’s 30-3 record over his first three seasons is a remarkable feat, and undoubtedly was a challenge each week. But this year — a year when he returns just three starters, none of which played both ways — could be his biggest challenge yet.
The Manhattan Indians lost 24 seniors off last year’s roster. Offensively, Schartz will replace his entire line, his starting backfield and his best receivers. Tight end Winston Dimel is the lone returner on this side of the ball, and he is recovering from a shoulder injury that slowed him down over the summer.
Truly, the Indians will be starting over on offense.
“We’re not approaching it any differently,” Schartz said. “We’re not looking to start a bunch of sophomores at the varsity level, which is a good thing.
“We still have the potential to be a good football team.”
Indeed, they’ll have potential. But as even the most casual sports fan knows, potential and actual production are two very different things. Being good on paper and actually winning the games takes a lot of work. Schartz has been incredible for three years at taking good teams on paper and putting in all the work necessary to win the games.
But with a new set of guys who lack varsity experience, can he replicate that success?
He’ll be tested right out of the gate against Mill Valley tonight here in Manhattan. With 17 returning starters, the Jaguars are the near opposite of Manhattan with regard to experience.
“They had a bunch of underclassmen last year,” he said. “And now they have the luxury of having that starting experience, so in that aspect, they’re way ahead of us.”
Schartz was tentative when asked if this team’s youth changed the way he prepared his team over the offseason.
“I’d like to think so, but I don’t know that I’m that talented of a coach,” he said. “I know one way. I asked the boys earlier, ‘Do you want me to coach you like a champion?’, and of course they said ‘yes’.
“We’re going to coach this team like they’re champions — that’s what the expectations are around here. I don’t know any other way.”
He said regardless of how many starters come back or which top player gets injured, the goal remains the same each season.
“We’re going to try and compete to the best of our ability every year to win a state championship. That’s the way it’s going to be every year,” he said. “Realistically, is that something you have a better chance of accomplishing some years more than others? Yes — but we’re not going to change the way we approach the season. We’re going to go in and prepare the best we can to go 1-0 each week. That’s our job, that’s the coaching staff’s job and that’s what’s expected of the young men.”
Expectations are an odd thing in that whenever you meet them, they get raised. This process repeats over and over until inevitably, the bar is lowered when the goal can no longer be reached.
Winners thrive on meeting lofty expectations, and the Indians have done well to replicate success each year under Schartz. But perhaps we’ll learn even more about what kind of coach Schartz really is this year — a year when expectations are still riding high after three years of dominance but the experience of the team doesn’t match up.
For Manhattan, losing more than one game this season won’t equal a failure. While the goal remains the same, no one expects last year’s backups and JV players to come out and win a state title.
But how they respond to adversity and how they play, despite their inexperience, will tell us plenty about the kind of coach Joe Schartz really is.
My guess is Schartz is up to the challenge. Winners always are.