The Indians finished 2011 strong, winning the last two district games. This season, Medicine Lodge will look to start its first season in 2A where its last 3A season left off; with a spot in the playoffs.
Coach: Faron Kraft (2nd year at Medicine Lodge, 4-6 with the Indians, 20-25 overall as a head coach.)
2011 Recap: 4-6 overall, 3-4 in the CPL, 2-1 in District.
Medicine Lodge started strong winning two out of its first three, but couldn’t get another win until it won two in a row to finish out the district. The Indians lost five games in the regular season, but four of those games were lost by an average of 6.25 points, with the fifth coming to eventual state champion Conway Springs. Medicine Lodge secured a birth in the 3A playoffs in the last season before moving to 2A, where it lost to Collegiate, a 4A school this year, in the first round.
Returning Starters: Offensive 6, Defensive 7
Returning Lettermen: 12
2012 District: Ellinwood, Inman, La Crosse, Sterling
Medicine Lodge has some key components to replace offensively. Quarterback Bryan Hellman threw for 4 touchdowns as a senior last year, and found the end zone a team-high 7 times on the ground. Running back Jake Beecher graduated and takes his team-high 754 yards rushing with him as well. Hellman’s two favorite targets, tight end Kelvin Shinliver and Tyler Ward are gone too.
However, Medicine Lodge has developed talent behind these players who are ready to step into leading roles in 2012.
Losing a running back like Beecher is frightening. But having a senior like Bryant Wornkey ready to take the lead at the position eliminates the unknown and instantly makes the Medicine Lodge backfield a strength of the team. Last season, Wornkey picked up 442 yards on the ground, averaging 6.23 yards per carry, and was a threat in the passing game as well with 122 yards on 13.56 yards per catch. With 5 touchdowns on the ground and 2 touchdowns receiving, Wornkey joined Hellman as the only players with seven touchdowns last year.
The Indians will be tapping junior Scott Beecher to quarterback the team. Beecher takes the reins as a junior, but is not without some varsity experience. Last season, he completed 20 passes for 258 yards and threw a touchdown pass as well. Having the experience last year will make Beecher especially experienced and intelligent for a junior quarterback.
Returning receiver Nathan Liebham didn’t have a lot of catches last season. In fact he only caught the ball one time. But that one catch may have foreshadowed a big senior year to follow in 2012. Liebham took his only catch of the season 70 yards for a touchdown against Wichita Trinity.
With players ready to go at the skill positions, the Indians will have to develop some depth on the offensive line. Seniors Tyler Small and Logan Bertholf return to lead the unit. Small doesn’t exactly have the most fitting name, standing at 6-foot-1, 270 pounds last season.
The Indians will be looking for players on the offensive line. This is not the case on the defensive side. Medicine Lodge is glad to have Tyler Small returning up front to lead the defensive line. Last season Small was the team’s fourth leading tackler with 42, and forced a couple of fumbles. Small will be joined by Cole Patton on the line to provide the foundation of what should be a strong front eight in the Indians’ base 4-4 defense.
At linebacker, Medicine Lodge has a pair of returning seniors hoping to have breakout years. Lakin Leibst returns after picking up 17 tackles last season, and classmate Logan Bertholf ended last year with 16 tackles. David Miller is another senior who comes into the starting role after picking up 8 tackles in three games last season.
In a league where the top tier features some of the best power running games in the state, this core on the front eight will be crucial to Medicine Lodge’s ability to navigate through the CPL.
In the secondary, Nathan Leibham will be a strong presence after picking up 16 tackles and 2 interceptions last season.
Odds and Ends:
While Medicine Lodge was playing 3A football last year, the rest of its sports teams made the switch to 2A, with the baseball team winning a Catchy Award as the 2A Team of the Year. This fall, it is the football team’s turn to make the switch.
One of the differences the Indians will face is the slightly different rhythm to the season. Instead of playing six games leading up to the final three games to decide the district, 2A districts feature five teams, making Medicine Lodge’s first district game in Week 5 against Inman. After three district games in a row, the Indians have a non-district game in Week 8 before closing out the year with one final district game against La Crosse.
If Medicine Lodge finds itself in a tight race for the district it could present some interesting strategic quandaries with a very good La Crosse program lurking in Week 9. Do you rest players in Week 8 and risk both physical and mental rust going into the final game, or do you play them and risk injury? A difficult gamble of strategy the coaching staff may have to face.
Although Medicine Lodge is venturing into a different district set-up, it is not Kraft’s first rodeo outside the three district-game format. Before coming to Medicine Lodge last season, he was at Dighton where he coached an 8-Man team. In 8-Man, there are five district games in a season.