HARTLAND — The Eagles football team was coming off a berth in the Lakes Conference title game going into the 2016 season, and they expected more of the same.
But expecting isn’t the same as doing, and an Eagles team that had some leadership issues lost its first five games and six of its first seven before winning the final two games of the season.
“Last year, our teamwork wasn’t there,” senior Josh Smithpeters said. “The kids were off in their own groups. It was a rough season. We didn’t have the brotherhood we always talk about. One thing we were trying to work on this season was to bring everyone together.”
The players also dedicated themselves to improving in the offseason.
“We had a good winter turnout and a lot of kids doing stuff on their own,” Hartland coach Brian Savage said.
As painful as last season was, it did provide opportunity late in the season for younger players who will be stepping into starting roles this season.
“The end of last season showed how young we were,” Savage said. “In a lot of spots we had had kids in some spots who had worked themselves into the lineup. Those kids were sophomores and juniors and they’re starters now.”
But Savage also acknowledges his young players have to grow up on the fly in the KLAA Gold, where wins will be hard-earned.
“There are no slouches in our schedule,” Savage said. “It’s full of quality teams, quality players, quality coaches. It’s a challenge week in and week out. It’s going to be a gauntlet with the foes we’re going to face, and making sure we’re there physically and able to compete in a league that’s probably going to send numerous teams to the playoffs as long as everyone doesn’t beat each other up.”
The Eagles will be led by David Garcia, Chris Gomoli, Ethan Martin and Sawyer Bulloch up front, with junior Reece Potter seeing time all over the field. He was one of those players who made the jump as a sophomore. “He’ll play running back, a little slot receiver and play defense this season,” Savage said. “He should be tired at the end of the night.”
Smithpeters will also see time on both sides of the ball, as will Jake Moyer, Tommy Lappin and Evan Metz.
“We’re going to learn on the run,” Savage said. “Every day we’re out here, we’re learning quick and trying to grow each day.”
Martin, for one, sees the positive effects of his team’s rededication to football, and each other.
“We’re more of a team,” he said. “Over the last couple of years, we didn’t do as much (as a team) over the summer. No one came to as many camps or workouts, but this year everyone tried to get there.”
It sounded like, an observer said, the lessons from last year have stuck with the Eagles.
“It did,” Martin said. “It really did.”
The application of that and other lessons begins on Thursday, when Hartland travels to Westland John Glenn.