Enduring a one-win season was a jarring experience for the underclassmen on Maize last year.
“It was hard to go back out there every week when you’re 1-8,” Konner Swenson said. “It was a big challenge coming back to practice every day and keep grinding.”
The grind is over, or at least Maize expects it to be. After their worst season since the turn of the century, the Eagles return all 11 starters from offense and five more on defense. They will have a total of 11 seniors who will have at least two years of starting experience, a quality that was sorely lacking last season.
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Maize put Derby in a 20-7 deficit and remained competitive with Bishop Carroll and Maize South early last season. But all three ended in double-digit losses, spurred often times by mistakes committed by Maize.
Coach Gary Guzman thinks it will be crucial how this year’s team responds to adversity.
“Our schedule is not going to be easy, so we’re going to have to show up every game and play a full game instead of a good first half,” Guzman said. “We have to make sure our kids don’t get too down on themselves. If we go down early, we have to remember we’re still in the game. Last year we had a lot of trouble with that.”
The balance on the team has shifted from mostly underclassmen to mostly seniors and motivation is high to not suffer through a repeat season.
“Coming back as seniors, nobody wants any piece of that again,” Swenson said. “We’re definitely a lot better this year and we’re going to have more discipline and talent on the field.”
Guzman is excited for the second year of quarterback Brayden Payne and running back Dalyn Johnson, both juniors, playing together in the backfield. Tyson Love, Jake Doerflinger, Jake Taylor, and Jake Shields all return at receiver and the offensive line is intact with Swenson, Destin Ellis, Chris White, Jake McClure, and Garrett Stover.
Antonio Espinoza will anchor the defensive line, while Austin Schaefer is back at linebacker, and Chandler Kelley and Dawson Sramek bolster the secondary.
After having hardly any experience returning going into last season, Maize now has plenty of it.
“The experience factor is going to be huge for us because people aren’t going to be nervous out there anymore,” senior safety Chandler Kelly said. “Nobody is going to expect us to do anything this year, so we have nothing to lose. If we all go out there and everybody does their own part, then we can be as good as any other team out there.”
Improvement is expected from within, and not by an incremental amount.
Guzman and his players want to finish with the program’s first winning season since 2013.
“We’ve made a few tweaks here and there and we think we can be pretty tough this year,” Guzman said. “We just need to get better at what we do and I really do believe we can turn things around this year.”