To Garden Plain coach Brad McCormick, Wyatt Lehner played an important role for the 11-1 Owls last fall, filling an offensive line void caused by teammates’ injuries during the season’s homestretch.
But Lehner could only view 2012 with partial satisfaction. A broken foot just before the start of practice kept him out of action until Garden Plain’s sixth game.
“It was one of the hardest times of my life,” said Lehner, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior. “I’m pretty pumped to get in a full season. I’m ready to lead.”
McCormick figures to take Lehner up on that offer as he begins his second season as coach. After switching roles from veteran assistant, McCormick guided Garden Plain to 11 consecutive victories — including two over Central Plains League rival Conway Springs — before a 49-0 loss to eventual Class 3A champion Scott City in the state quarterfinals.
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It was the most lopsided of Garden Plain’s five postseason losses since the Owls won the 3A title in 2007. But McCormick isn’t using it as a rallying point for this year’s team.
“That’s one we want to try to forget,” McCormick said. “The kids around here don’t really need motivational tricks from a coach. They want to be good and they want to win. They get in the weight room in the summer and they do their work.”
Lehner, a three-year starter at defensive end, will join 215-pound senior Ethan Balesstracci at running back in Garden Plain’s flexbone offense. Both will play important roles as the Owls adjust to a replacement for quarterback Caleb Arnold, who transferred to Derby.
The Owls return five starters on offense and defense. Seniors Ross Hartshorn and Tommy Rowold, junior Gunner Cornett and sophomore Jonah Nowak are solid building blocks on the line.
“We’re like everybody else in that we have that question as to which kids are going to step up,” McCormick said “Who’s going to be there for us?”
Garden Plain Owls
Coach: Brad McCormick, second season, 11-1
League: Central Plains
Last season: 11-1, lost in 3A quarterfinals
Last five seasons: 50-9
Projected 2013 playoff team? Yes
Top skill players
|Sept. 6||at Douglass|
|Sept. 20||at Belle Plaine|
|Sept. 27||Wichita Trinity|
|Oct. 11||at Conway Springs|
|Oct. 25||at Hutchinson Trinity|
Wyatt Lehner on his team
What Garden Plain does well: “Our offensive and defensive lines have tons of depth. We probably have 10 guys who could play varsity for other Central Plains teams and a lot of 3A schools. Throughout the whole season, there is going to be competition for those spots.”
What has to improve: “I think we have a secondary that can be pretty good. We need to get our personnel worked out and make sure everybody understands assignments.”