Last summer was a scramble for every high school football team, a short turnaround after the pandemic moved the 2020 fall season into spring 2021.
It was even tougher for the Morrison Mustangs, who hired new head coach Steve Snider in late May and had very little time to put together a summer workout plan before the 2021 fall season started in August.
This summer, Morrison is well ahead of where it was a year ago, and the coaches and players feel like they have a strong base to use as a springboard into 2022.
“Last year, I was hired right around Memorial Day, so right at probably the worst time you can come into a program, and we didn’t have a lot of time to get an offseason program really going and get the kids into it,” said Snider, who came to the Mustangs from Orangeville. “We had something, but I wasn’t here all year preaching it.
“Well, now we’ve got that. We’ve got a great offseason program, we’ve had great participation in the weight room, and the kids are excited about it; this is the most exciting time of the year. The kids are excited about camp, they’re in the weight room hard, we finished with a couple fun 7-on-7s, something nice and fun for them to do. So they’re excited, and that’s what most exciting to me.”
While Snider didn’t change much from Morrison’s traditional ground-and-pound offense, it still took up some time during summer workouts for the players to get to know him and his style of coaching.
That hasn’t been an issue this offseason, and the players are appreciative of the familiar relationship with their coach.
“It’s a lot nicer, because now that we’re kind of used to his coaching strategies, we can come to practice and work hard from the start, instead of going through the first part of adjusting to a new coach and having to go through the meeting process, finding out what he’s like,” senior captain Logan Baker said. “We’ve gotten comfortable with him, and it’s a whole lot nicer and it goes faster. We can put more of our attention on playing and getting better, push to our limits to get ready for the season.”
It’s not just the relationship on the field throughout the summer workouts and camp that have helped the players adjust to Snider. The fact that they’ve had the chance to get to know him as a teacher and a person has also been a key factor in the relationship.
“Really, just the bond that we’ve got going throughout the weight room, the practice field, the classroom; he’s just been there for us, basically all offseason, and now he’s got us putting in work out here and in the weight room,” junior captain Carson Strating said. “It just makes a big difference when you’ve got him here year-round instead of right before the season.”
Another big piece of the puzzle this offseason was the return of experienced players and key positions.
Morrison graduated 15 seniors from last year’s roster of 40 players, and that includes running backs Alex Anderson and Thomas Dauphin, and wideouts Trey Strating and Andre McQueen.
But Carson Strating led the Mustangs in rushes (204), yards (846) and touchdowns (5) last season, and Baker also ran for 101 yards as a backup fullback. Quarterback Danny Mouw completed 53.5% of his passes as a junior last season for 548 yards and four TDs, and leading receiver Chase Newman (17 catches, 255 yards, TD) was a junior last year.
There’s also a hunger from some of the other returning players who served in less than a starring role who are eager to step up and prove themselves.
“We had a lot of younger guys last year who really stepped up big-time playing for us at the varsity level,” Carson Strating said. “Those seniors are gone, but that happens every year. They were good athletes and leaders and all that, but I think we’ve really just got a lot of young guys that are really going to stand out this year for us. A lot of the younger guys, I think, are really going to show what they can do.”
That desire by the younger players, coupled with a much more stable situation this offseason, means Morrison is looking to bounce back from a 2-7 record last fall. With wins in weeks 5 and 8 last year, the Mustangs are ready to build on some late-season success.
Snider, for one, is excited to see the progress in his second season.
“That situation [last summer] is nobody’s fault; you can’t blame the school, you can’t blame anybody. It was the spring COVID season, and because of that there was the late resignation, so what else do you do? Everybody did their best, and that’s all you can ask for,” Snider said. “But it’s nice having been here for a full year in the building, getting to know the athletes on a much, much better level before we get going, and have them all through the school year and all summer long doing our program, getting ready. That’s just exciting.”