Your Prep Sports
SOLON – When a program has won as consistently as Solon has over the past decade and a half a 6-5 season tends to stand out.
Kevin Miller isn’t taking the program’s first season with more than three losses a decade sitting down.
The veteran head coach spent the entire offseason examining every part of the Solon program that has been one of the most successful in the state in his 15 seasons at the helm.
“As a staff we have reviewed every aspect of our program,” Miller explained. “We are trying to improve in every regard whether it’s the strength and conditioning component, whether it’s the Xs and Os, whether it’s the practice planning. It’s all of it, it is all encompassing right now and it has been a nine-month process.”
Solon simply isn’t used to seasons like the one the Spartans had a season ago.
Prior to last year’s five-loss season Solon had lost 13 games over the past 10 seasons combined while appearing in five state title games and winning four straight from 2007 to 2010.
The fifth loss of last season was a 23-point setback to West Delaware that ended Solon’s season in the second round of the 3A playoffs for the second straight season.
“After last year I think everyone is hungry,” Solon senior Graeson Dall said. “Everybody has that edge now and everybody is just really excited to get back in to what we do best and what the Spartan way is.”
Between Miller’s comprehensive makeover of the program and the talent that returns Solon believes it has everything in place to make last year’s five-loss season a bump in the road rather than a habit.
The Spartans enter the season with 13 returning starters and full of motivation.
“With the season we had last year it was definitely not what we wanted,” Solon senior Trevor Nelson said. “That just gave us extra motivation this year to come back stronger.”
The pieces appear in place on both sides of the ball for a big-time bounce back season.
Senior quarterback Blaze Griffis returns to lead an offense that returns three of its top four running backs, a pair of explosive pass catchers and four experienced lineman.
The 6-0, 200-pound Griffis takes over the quarterbacking duties full time after passing for 647 yards and five touchdowns while splitting snaps with Brandan Childs a season ago.
“I feel a little more relaxed and more acclimated with the environment,” Griffis said. “I feel a lot more confident in what we are doing this year. I think we have a great potential on offense, we just have to put it together.”
Griffis is surrounded by plenty of weapons.
Seniors Bo Black and Trevor Nelson and junior Kendrick Harris all return at running back after combining for 633 yards while operating as a committee last year.
Iowa recruit Jacob Coons, a 6-foot-4 receiving target returns after catching 10 passes for 233 yards and three scores and Dall is back after catching 23 passes last year.
“This year our offense is going to be good,” Dall said. “The energy that everybody is bringing every day, it’s a whole different team this year. It’s a whole different mindset this year.”
Junior Tyler Linderbaum returns to anchor what should be a strong Solon offensive line.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Linderbaum was a first-team all-district selection last season.
“I think this year we have sort of had an attitude change,” Coons said. “The whole summer we kind of changed our mindset as a family. We are going to be together, win or lose we are playing for each other.”
On defense Solon brings back two of its top three tacklers from a year ago in Nelson and Black.
The revamped Spartans will be put to the test early.
Solon opens the season on Friday against defending 2A runner-up Mount Vernon and travels to 1A champion Regina the next week.
The Spartans face Washington in a key district matchup in week four.
Solon and Washington split a pair of games last season with Solon winning 17-14 in the opening round of the 3A playoffs.
Another four-loss regular season will almost certainly keep the Spartans out of the postseason with the playoff field cut to 16 teams in 3A.
“That’s certainly not the standard,” Miller said of last year’s 6-5 finish. “Obviously we have kind of a renewed sense of commitment and dedication. I just feel that kids have something to prove now.”