Heavy lifting, culture change key to Seneca building off 2021′s strong finish

Fighting Irish feel weight work will maintain 2021 momentum

Summer work in the weight room is a requisite for all competitive football teams, and Seneca is no different.

However, there’s a new attitude with the Irish, led by a junior class that last fall as sophomores was thrust into varsity action, took some lumps in an 0-3 start, then righted the ship to win four of their last six — one a victory over powerhouse, playoff-bound Clifton Central.

‘They want to take the next step, so there’s been a shift in the importance of the weight room this summer, and it’s been great. Kids that were barely in the weight room last year are at the top of the leaderboard this year.’

—  Seneca football head coach Terry Maxwell

That has the squad hungry and hard-working these summer months.

“Finishing the season so strong, especially with the win over Clifton, that was the buy-in for a lot of these kids, and that’s a sign of good things,” Seneca coach Terry Maxwell said. “They want to take the next step, so there’s been a shift in the importance of the weight room this summer, and it’s been great. Kids that were barely in the weight room last year are at the top of the leaderboard this year.

“At a time when you see programs struggling to field teams, to see our kids on board working hard is really cool. That’s going to be a big key for us, so I challenged the kids to have 80% attendance this summer, and that’s been accepted by the larger portion of our team.

“This is the best summer in terms of attendance since I’ve been here. We have good leaders in there who are bringing other along with them. … It’s really exciting to see.”

The Irish went into last season with only one returning starter and needed to rely largely on a group of sophomores who Maxwell said “maybe weren’t quite ready” and were “learning the varsity game and adjusting to the speed of the game on the fly.”

That won’t be a problem this season.

Among eight starters back from a steadily-improving, run-oriented offense that averaged 294.7 rushing yards and 332.2 total yards per game are senior halfbacks Collin Wright and Asher Hamby, junior fullback Braden Ellis and junior quarterback Nathan Grant, who will be playing his third varsity season.

Add another nine on defense, and the Irish have the experience to “hit the ground running from where we were, with maybe a few new wrinkles,” Maxwell said.

“For such a young team, how we finished really showed us what we really could be this year if we all work hard,” said Wright, last year’s leading rusher with 737 yards and six TDs and currently “the energy guy” in the weight room, according to the coach. “At the beginning of the year, we had so much stuff messed up because of how young our team was and the lack of leadership from the senior class. The last two seasons, there would only be like three seniors show up for the workouts, and that plays a pretty big part for how we do as a football team. …

“It’s about attitude in here. It’s so important, because what we do in the weight room is going to show up on the field. We feel if we work hard in here, we’ll be successful out there.”

Wright points to junior Chris Peura, a 6-1, 210-pound lineman/linebacker who squats more than 500 pounds, benches more than 300 and runs a five-second 40-yard dash as “the hardest worker in here.”

“I try to lead by example, show the younger ones how to work hard, how to get stronger, how to get faster,” said Peura, one of four returning interior linemen. “We try to help everyone get to their maxes, encourage them to get stronger by having every one of them put as much effort as they can into it. You can’t ask for much more than that. … We want to get as much commitment and dedication out of the team as we can.”

Dan Baker, the athletic department’s strength and conditioning coordinator, noted recently that as the summer workouts come to a close, the weight room was not only busy, but loud as the players were “hootin’ and hollerin’ ” for their teammates to bench PRs. Part of the reason for that is a planned competition – the athletes divided into four teams to develop camaraderie and attendance.

“I’ve been doing this particular job, this is my fifth year now, and as a whole this is definitely the best summer we’ve ever had in the weight room,” Baker said. “There are always a few people who do well in here during the summer, but the number of athletes we have, the effort they’re putting forth and the consistency in those things, this is the best, for the football team especially.

“They’ve stepped it up … and that speaks volumes about Coach Maxwell holding them responsible, and the captains and leaders on the team as well.”