This year's Football program has one noticeable change: the new Freshman Football team is back after being gone for six years. This new team was only made possible due to the abundant amount of new freshman players.
“Six years ago was the last time we had three teams, so when the class of 2021 were freshman,” said head football coach Adam Cruz. “Up until that point we had three teams. That year however, two things happened. One, after the second game, JV had about five injuries. This led to JV not having enough players for the season. Likewise, the freshman team only had 27 kids. And every team we played with the exception of CBC was freshman/sophomore. So everybody in our conference had moved to freshman/sophomore, except for us and CBC. At the time CBC had around 60 players, and we had 27.”
This incident led to the merging of the freshman team at the time with the sophomores who played down to form one team. The SLUH football program then had the varsity squad and the freshman/sophomore JV team. The goal of this was to be able to sustain a JV team throughout a season without having fallout due to injuries or low numbers.
“(Former varsity head coach Mike) Jones and I decided that the number was going to be 40. If we ever had 40 freshmen, that's when we would try to reinstall the three team football program,” said Cruz. “There are several requirements that need to be met in order to make this a success. First of all, the sophomores and juniors that could sustain a JV themselves. Obviously there are many things that need to be taken into consideration so the numbers could be sustained. My rule is that if a player is on first or second string, they will automatically be on varsity. Juniors who aren’t playing first or second string, will play on JV—the goal is to get these guys some playing time. On top of this, we needed enough sophomores to come out to help sustain the JV team, because we still had many juniors playing varsity.”
If the JV program succeeded at sustaining itself with enough juniors and sophomores, the freshman program could then focus on getting 40 freshmen on one team, without worrying about merging teams. Luckily that criteria was met this year, when over 40 freshmen came out to play some football this season.
“This year 48 freshmen tried out for football, so this was the first time in years that the numbers were met across the board. Now, four of these freshmen play with varsity—two freshmen are straight varsity and two dress varsity, but mostly play JV,” said Cruz. “ We barely crossed the 40 player line, but we made it work. Enough players of the class of 2025 stuck around to play, and the class of 2024 was huge, so we had enough players to sustain a JV team. Everything worked out perfectly.”
The switch back to three teams would present new challenges for the freshman team in more ways than one. Along with filling out an entire roster, many schools with a freshman team draw from large programs.
“The football programs that have freshman teams are typically really good programs,” said Cruz. “These programs have a lot of kids, more size to work with. The SLUH freshman team this year opened against Francis Howell and they were a lot bigger physically than us. Edwardsville is the same scenario, the guys over there are big.”
The difference in program sizes has also affected the freshman football team schedule, as other MCC schools don’t have a rostered freshman-only team this season.
“There are also certain teams that the freshman team won't have a chance to play, an example being De Smet, which only has a varsity and a freshman/sophomore team,” said Cruz. “So, basically the freshman team will not have a full conference schedule, but we are just happy that they are getting a real season.”
Now that three teams are in full swing practice schedule, another aspect has been reintroduced into the program; different practice locations.
“The other thing that it's reintroduced is practicing over at Forest Park. We hadn't practiced over at Forest Park in a while, but we have enough people in the program,” said Cruz .
In the midst of reviving the Freshman team, two common questions were being asked; Who would step up to the plate in order to lead this new team, and where would they practice? And after teaching freshman for his first teaching year at SLUH, coach Chris Stahl would be the one to lead them as well as coordinate their new practice facility: the beloved fields of Forest Park.
“It’s really rewarding but also very challenging,” said Stahl. “You have a number of kids, and I don’t know if it’s the majority or not, but a good portion who have never played football before.”
This aspect of a freshman team led Stahl to approach his coaching style differently than he had been used to after coaching varsity D-Line his first year.
“When you don't get the result you want from them, you can't just keep telling them to do the same thing because they don't know. And so you have to get creative and come up with drills that kind of force them to do those things” said Stahl. “We just go straight to Forest Park after school. We don't really have a lot of whiteboard time. And so I think those are some of the challenges of maximizing the time that you have, but also kind of picking and choosing what works and what needs to be worked on.”
With varsity and JV being bigger priorities for the program, it becomes hard for this new team to get the same opportunities such as a place to watch film and discuss what needs to improve; most of that work must be done on the field for them. But through their hard work and perseverance, they have been able to see the payoff.
“Now the rewarding part is you see these kids go from really inexperienced players who are not very confident, to these athletes who are able to finally do what you've coached them to do,” Stahl remarked. “The games have gone pretty good. I think we've played our competition pretty well.”
Stahl is hoping to teach the freshmen valuable lessons and give them good tips to better their football as they move on to JV and then eventually varsity.
“I'm not looking for wins and losses, I'm looking for the things that tell me that you know your job,” said Stahl. “So that kind of gets down to the X's and O's, are you paying attention at practice? Getting mental reps when you're not in? All that stuff, knowing your job and knowing how to do it.”
In terms of their record, the freshmen have gone 2-1-2, with wins against Vianney and Timberland, a tie against MICDS, and losses to Edwardsville and Francis Howell. Lineman Patrick Laffey and receiver/cornerback Will Schulte have been two of the major leaders on the team, according to Stahl.
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