Scotus Central Catholic football missed out on the playoffs for the third time in four years and went 0-2 in games against rivals. Based on those metrics, there isn't much for the Shamrocks to celebrate about 2020.
However, there's quite a bit more to the story than what seems obvious.
For one, coach Tyler Linder said, the ability to play the full season from start to finish without a week off is a win in and of itself. For a team with 18 seniors, the ability to spend more time together, deepen relationships and make memories is the intangible part of football that makes it truly special each fall.
In a more concrete way, Linder said Scotus set itself up for future success by gaining a better understanding of its own identity. The Shamrocks learned, sometimes through success, other times through failure, how better to run and adjust the offense it began to call last fall. Defensively, Scotus has a better understanding of how to stop the run.
Putting that learning into practice is easier said than done. But Linder said there's no doubt the program is in a better place than it was just a few months ago.
"We have to take the good with the bad and learn from all of it," Linder said. "We've learned a lot. We're going to continue to learn and work and be ready for the 2021 campaign."
Scotus made a philosophical switch in the summer of 2019. After playing under center for the first five years of Linder's tenure, he and the staff modified the Wing-T to a shotgun concept.
The move was made for a variety of reasons. First, it was an attempt to give the Shamrock's best athletes more opportunities to get the ball in space. Granted, having Tyler Palmer on the roster made that a necessity, but Linder and offensive coordinator Jay Pelan agreed the offense wasn't producing those type of chances under center.
Secondly, the makeup of Scotus athletes has shifted in the past 20 years. The Shamrocks can no longer rely on linemen that average 250 pounds. With an inability to generate a push up front, Linder and Pelan have been tasked with finding other creative ways of moving the ball.
Lastly, Linder, also the defensive coordinator, said teaching high school players who to properly tackle and make plays in space is the hardest thing for him and others to coach. A Shotgun Wing-T that puts athletes on the edges and in the open field helps exploit that.
"That’s not to sell our kids short; we have very good athletes. But the game, even the collegiate game, is going to a little bit more finesse, a little bit more spread," Linder said. "Those sort of things excite players, and it also fits our talent the best."
Palmer made Linder and Pelan look pretty good last year regardless of what was called. This fall was perhaps a more accurate look at what Scotus can expect out of the offense when it lacks a Division-I athlete.
As such, the coaching staff learned much more about what to call, when to call it, how to prepare and how to make adjustments. Plus, not only was Palmer a major advantage a year ago but having a new offense, in general, was beneficial.
Unsure how to prepare or adapt to Scotus' attack, many opponents were caught flat-footed. That didn't happen as much this season. Most weeks, defenses had designed formations around the new Shotgun Wing-T, and most weeks it was never the same. That required Shamrock adjustments on the fly every Friday night.
Linder and his staff now have a better understanding of how to counter those moves.
"It gave us fits at times, but it also forced us to learn to grow and make adjustments," Linder said. "This is a good roster to understand what we’re going to have each and every year. We’re going to have a few explosive athletes and hard-working linemen, and we’re going to have to make the most of it. This year really taught us how to handle that and go forward."
Defensively, the most obvious lesson learned, or maybe better put, that must be learned, is stopping the run.
In the five losses, Scotus gave up rushing totals of 363, 301, 330, 534 and 374.
The Shamrocks play a 33 Stack defense meant to wreak havoc upfront and prevent linemen from getting to linebackers. Regardless of the offense it faces, there's enough versatility and consistency among keys and language for it to make stops.
It worked well against spread and option teams; not so well against power run teams, i.e. Wahoo, Aquinas, Battle Creek, West Point-Beemer and Lakeview.
Similar to how the Shotgun Wing-T was in part a response to limited physical size, the 33 Stack provides a leveling of the playing field against offenses with a physical advantage. However, that was often not the case in 2020 when power teams took it right at Scotus and overwhelmed the Shamrocks at the point of contact.
"We didn’t do a good enough job of getting off blocks or putting our kids in position to slide and make tackles. I think the progression is, we’ve got to be more sound in the run game," Linder said. "...We’ve got to put a person out there, whether it’s in the 33 stack or something else, that’s going to be a run-stopper first. Our roots are in the 33 stack, but we’ve got to find other answers when that’s not working for us."
Scotus opened with a loss at Wahoo, beat Omaha Concordia then lost three straight to Aquinas, Battle Creek and West Point-Beemer before three straight victories over North Bend, Schuyler and Boone Central. A loss to Lakeview closed the year 4-5.
Linder would like to think the 3-1 ending is a better representation of his group especially after the knowledge that was gained through the first month and a half. Either way, he's thankful for the group he had. As the offense and defense take another step, Scotus needed a group of athletes intent on the process. He'll be forever grateful that his team understood the larger picture.
"Our goal is to build young men to win championships and compete for championships. I really like the way our kids competed this year," Linder said. "Our kids never quit, they never hung their heads, they came to work every single day.
"The thing we’ve got to do a better job of early in the season is to get that fire, get that energy and get that enthusiasm where it needs to be to weather those storms. There are times where you go on a losing streak or a skid and those things can get out of hand fast. If you saw the resolve of our kids this year, especially the bounce-back win against North Bend and then rolling that into Schuyler and Boone Central. There were some real high points in our year."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get in the game with our Prep Sports Newsletter
Sent weekly directly to your inbox!