STRYKER — It’s year No. 2 at the varsity level for the upstart Stryker football program and after serving as an assistant with the team the last three years, Kent Holsopple has stepped into the head coaching position after the departure of Justin Sonnenberg.
The 2018 season was a struggle for the Panthers, who finished the year 0-10 in their first season at the varsity level since 1931. The team began the year with 18 players and late in the season, the Panthers were beginning games with only 15 healthy players.
The team’s roster size will once again be small in 2019, as Stryker only has 18 on its roster. Still, Holsopple said the Panthers are excited at the opportunity to compete for another season.
“All the kids we have right now are all in,” Holsopple said. “We’ve had some heart-to-heart talks and they’re not blinking. They’re ready to go, they’re putting in the work and there’s still that excitement and enthusiasm to play. ... They’re getting after it, they’re competing, they love being around each other and it’s been really good.”
The makeup of Stryker’s 2019 schedule is unique in some respects. The Panthers will still be playing a 10-game schedule, but only eight of the games will be played in the tradition 11-on-11 style. Two of Stryker’s 2019 opponents — Holgate and Toledo Christian — elected to play 8-on-8 due to low numbers of participation this year.
While some area teams attempted to find 11-on-11 replacements, Holsopple says Stryker has no aversion to playing the pair of 8-on-8 contests. The games won’t technically be official, but it’s all about giving the kids the opportunity to compete, Holsopple said.
“It’s a chance to keep on playing,” Holsopple said. “And we’re not immune to things Toledo Christian and Holgate are going through right now. ... I just felt it was a good way to not have to worry about one more thing and it’s a credible opponent. And if it’s eight-man, we’ll do that no problem. ... That’s the whole purpose of this program, is to give kids the opportunity to play football in a safe environment.”
Because of Stryker’s low numbers in its 11-on-11 slate of games, Holsopple said the Panthers are going to play to their strengths rather than try to be something they’re not.
“We’re going to be spreading the ball out,” he said. “We’re going to be throwing it around. We’re going to try to do some no-huddle sometimes and try to keep the defense on their heels sometimes. ... We’re going to have to be very fit to play, because a lot of kids are going to be playing both sides of the ball.”
Holsopple singled out his four seniors as players he expects to lead the charge this season in lineman Noah Huffman, wide receiver/defensive back Gabriel Littin, wide receiver/linebacker Wyatt Short and wide receiver/defensive back Carter Zimmann.
In addition, Holsopple said he expects big things from the likes of junior quarterback Payton Woolace and junior running back Logan Liechty.
Holsopple listed the team’s biggest goal as maintaining the current level of excitement surrounding the program. He realizes that sooner or later, that mean the wins will have to start coming, but it’s important to keep a positive attitude.
“I was at Hilltop growing up and I’ve been on winless teams before,” Holsopple said. “That was tough, but my senior year we ended up having a winning record. You have to stay the course and keep on getting better. We stress getting better every single day.”