SM North started slow but finished strong

By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
Posted: February 16, 2011 - 3:40 PM

It was a season of transition for Shawnee Mission North in 2010. The Indians had a new coach, new offense and new defense. With all of the changes it was a rough start but encouraging finish for North.

Dennis Grayless took over the Indians after serving as an assistant the last six years. The offense was changed from a wide-open passing attack to a run-oriented single wing and the defense was changed from a 3-3 to a 4-2-5.

As the team learned and adjusted to the new schemes, North opened the season with seven straight losses. The Indians also battled injuries in the early part of the season so it made the learning curve even steeper.  North would get its first win of the season in Week No. 8 42-0 over Wyandotte and then win a tough 28-24 contest over Leavenworth to advance to the playoffs.

Grayless said being able to get those last two wins and make the playoffs really turned the season around.

“That week nine win against Leavenworth was really good for us in a lot of ways,” Grayless said. “We got down 14-0 and it would have been easy for a football team to give up at that point and say we’re done. The boys really fought hard and came back.”

Not only did the Indians come back and win the game, they held off a late rally by Leavenworth to secure the victory. The Pioneers had the ball on the 6-yard line on the last play of the game. A game-winning touchdown pass was knocked away by a North defender and the Indians had earned a trip to the postseason.

“That moment for a football program that had endured some pretty rough times and always seems to lose games like that, to win that game was really good,” Grayless said. “That was a biggie to get over that hurdle.”

One thing that helped to get over that hurdle was a change in practice that happened early in the season. The coaching staff went back to basics one day a week and tried to focus on fundamentals. That work began to pay off late in the season and paid even more dividends when players got healthy.

“We weren’t tackling very well, we weren’t blocking very well early on,” Grayless said. “In wee three we instituted what we called fundamental Monday. We spent the first hour of practice just working on blocking and tackling until you were blue in the face with it. They were really tough drills on the kids. We were really just trying to get back to a fundamental set where we did those two things well.

“Two or three weeks later we started seeing improvement in our position to make a tackle, our ability to wrap up, our ability to get on a block and stay on a block and the level of our pads got better.”

Going forward Grayless and his staff are working on a mindset with the team that stresses preparation in every aspect of football, school and citizenship.

“All of us collectively need to have our willingness to prepare be better than our willingness to win,” Grayless said. “As a 10-man staff and 80 varsity football players every day we wake we need to be doing everything correctly. From lacing up our shoes in the morning, driving to school, listening to our teachers, being good ambassadors for our school and coming out on that football field and giving everything we’ve got to be the best that we can.

“Not just the players but the coaches and myself busting our butt to be the best we can. If we can keep our focus and our attention towards that end that process results in success. If stay in the mindset that we talk about those things and still don’t do them we are going to be mired in mediocrity.”