August 16, 2018 09:32 PM
(ABC 6 News) – For the first time in a decade, in 2017, the Mayo Spartans finished with a losing record (4-5) on the football field—and it won’t get any easier for Mayo in 2018.
Despite winning four of their final five regular season games in 2017, the Spartans lost to the cross-town rival Century Panthers in the opening round of the Section 1AAAAA playoffs for a second-straight season.
“We’ve been taken out in the first round of the playoffs for two years in a row now. It’s not a good feeling,” Spartans head coach Donny Holcomb, who is entering his 7th season in charge, said. “It’s something that I feel we can prevent and we just have to make sure we’re playing our best ball by the end of the season. We’ve got to grow and improve, and we have to be hungry when playoffs come.”
The downside for the Spartans is that they won’t have a lot of familiar faces back in 2018 which helped spur the end of their run in 2017—the Spartans lost roughly 15 starters to graduation, which has left many spots up for grabs.
"What I really like is that there are so many kids who want to jump in and compete and want those spots,” Holcomb said. “As long as we have kids who are hungry and ready to go, there are multiple kids we can play and get experience with. We want to make sure the attitude is in the right spot, the discipline is growing and we feel we're in the right direction."
Offensively, Holcomb, who is 33-25 in six years on the job, will be counting on senior running back Israel Lozoya this fall.
“(Israel has) turned into a great leader,” Holcomb said. “He’s going to be in the primary tailback spot, but he’s going to play in the slot as well in that versatile position.”
Lozoya will have to play behind a revamped offensive line—Damon Hinrichs is the lone returning starter on this year’s offensive line.
“They’ve been working very hard, but it’s definitely a question mark regarding where guys are going to play and who is going to fill those spots with the seniors who graduated, but we’ve got a good competitive group and we’re excited to see how it turns out.”
The new offensive line will protect junior quarterback Cade Sheehan, who is the first junior captain ever in Holcomb’s era as head coach.
“He’s a super kid,” Holcomb said. “He works super hard. He’s done a great job in 7-on-7’s (in the offseason). We’re really excited about him and we feel he can do the job.”
“I love Cade,” Spartans senior wide receiver Jack Murphy said. “He’s a little short, but he can sling the ball. I think he’s going to surprise some people this year.”
Besides Lozoya, Sheehan will likely have senior Alex Lopez and junior Asa Cummings to rely on in the offensive backfield, and Murphy, who is also a team captain, at wide receiver. Murphy has started at safety on the defensive side of the football since his sophomore season, but he’ll have a greater offensive role in 2018 for the first time in his varsity career.
“It's been awesome,” Murphy said about the transition to wide receiver. “I've always liked to play offense. I finally get my shot, I think it'll be good. We've got a lot of quick guys on the team, we've got a group of wide receivers, a good young quarterback, I think we'll be good this year, I'm excited."
Defensively, the Spartans will rely heavily on their speed—and discipline.
“We’re not super blessed with size, but we have speed at all our positions,” Holcomb said. “We need to utilize that and make sure we can be sure tacklers.”
“Doing our jobs (will be the difference),” Murphy added. “In the past years, people have kind of just messed up on their positioning and such, but I think if we stick together and believe we can do it, I think that’s going to help us a lot if we have that mentality.”
The 2018 Spartans are young, they’re not big, but they’re confident—when playing in the same section as defending Class AAAAA state champion Owatonna, confidence is needed.
“We’re going to have a younger line and younger defense, but I think we’re catching on pretty quick. I have faith in our guys,” Murphy said. “I think everyone is determined. There are really no big egos here. I really like this group.”
“I want to make it deeper in the playoffs. I believe (we can beat Owatonna). I think we did well against them in 7-on-7. It’s obviously different with pads, but we have to beat them with our quickness.”
The Spartans open the regular season versus Austin on Friday, August 31 prior to hosting Owatonna on Friday, September 7.
Updated: August 16, 2018 09:32 PM
Created: August 14, 2018 09:42 PM
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