KANSAS - Lakota's history in the Midland Athletic League is short. It's success there is even shorter.
The Raiders joined the MAL in 2009 and enter this season just 1-27 in league games. Their lone MAL win came when they outlasted North Baltimore 48-34 in Week 8 in 2009, one week after falling 12-6 in double overtime during a driving rainstorm at Seneca East.
The Raiders have only come close to three other league wins since then - 27-26 loss to Calvert in Week 10 of 2010, and twice in 2011, falling 42-35 in Week 7 to Mohawk and 30-29 in Week 9 to North Baltimore.
The rest of the team's other MAL losses have been by at least nine points - nearly two dozen losses by two or more possessions.
It's not a legacy that instills respect among other teams, Vodika said, but he added he and the coaches have been sure to use that as motivation.
"Our guys, we drilled into their heads [that] no one respects us. We haven't won a league game in two years, three years, four years. I don't know if we ever won one," said Vodika, now in his second year with the Raiders. "Somebody told me we won one before. I felt we were close in a couple games last year.
|Head coach: Dave Vodika, second year.|
|2012: 2-8, 0-7 MAL.|
|Assistant coaches: Dustin Nejedly, Nick Petroff, Ryan Brooks, D.J. Dyer.|
|60/88 Jack Raymond||6-5||215||OL/DL||12|
|Sept. 6||at Gibsonburg|
|Sept. 13||CARDINAL STRITCH|
|Sept. 20||at Calvert|
|Oct. 4||at Fremont St. Joe|
|Oct. 18||at Mohawk|
|Oct. 25||at Seneca East|
|Nov. 1||NORTH BALTIMORE|
"To be honest with you, I really was hoping for a signature win, an upset of somebody. It should have happened a couple times, and it didn't. Part of that, I believe, was our disbelief that we were good enough to beat people. Let's face facts, if you go into the fight thinking you're not very good, you don't play very well," he said.
That's changing this year, he said.
Despite the Raiders (2-8, 0-7 MAL) suiting up only 25 players, Vodika said this year's team has brought the focus and determination needed to turn things around.
"I think right now, our kids, the confidence level is higher. We've still got to win games. I think that that part, I just feel that we've closed the gap a little bit," he said. "We played some people tough last year, and we didn't play Calvert or Carey well. I'm hoping that those blowups are behind us and gone.
"I really like the competitiveness of the team. They're willing to do things they have to do, which means suck up in the fourth quarter and run, which means be disciplined," Vodika said. "I'm real proud of this group and I'm happy. I hope that that transfers to good results out on the field."
Experience should help.
Fifteen of the 25 Raiders are veterans, including nine of the team's 10 seniors.
"I've got every football player [in the school]. That's a good thing," Vodika said. "The hard-nosed ones are with you. We lost some starters, but I wouldn't say any of them were starters that really were going to be impact players. We got all the impact players."
The impact will be felt in a different formation on offense this year as the Raiders move away from Vodika's favored I to more shotgun and spread sets.
The change is due partly to personnel and partly to a need to be more balanced.
Only two linemen - seniors Jordan Smith (228) and Mac Flanagan (252) - weigh more than 220 pounds, and none of the running backs top 200 pounds. Also, last year's team finished last in the league in both passing (388 yards) and total offense (1,947 yards) for the season.
"We'll still try to be balanced and we'll still try to emphasize the run, but I challenged the coaches. We threw the ball for 300 and some yards total last year," Vodika said. "Part of that was performance and part of it was scheme, so our coaches have been working really hard on having the blend so that we can let our quarterback get in a groove."
Senior Colin Timmons is the one getting the call to get in that groove after going 11 for 27 through the air for 234 yards, three touchdowns and one interception last year.
Freshman Dakota Bowling, a starter at receiver, will back him up.
Their line will be built around senior Jack Raymond (6-5, 215), who moved from tight end to center this year.
The strong side will have Flanagan (6-6) at guard and senior Kyle Below (6-4, 208) at tackle, while the quick side will have Smith (6-1) at guard and senior Bobby Arriaga (5-6, 182) at tackle.
All of the linemen are returning letterwinners, and their six backups include a pair of veterans in sophomore Mason Wagner (5-11, 210) and junior Austin James (6-0, 218).
"There we're OK. We're two-deep," said Vodika, who coaches the linemen. "If you can have eight linemen, be two-deep in skilled [positions] hopefully without any multiple injuries, we're going to be OK this year."
Several other veterans also return to the offense.
Senior Josh Kirkpatrick switched from tight end to wide receiver and sophomore Spencer King moved from backup quarterback to tight end.
Junior Jordan Jaso and sophomore Andrew Ferree return as running backs, senior Albert Guerra will split time between slot receiver and running back, and senior Julian Boose is back as a receiver.
Senior Shaw Wright will help out at running back, and freshmen Madison Jaso and Gabe Boose will help flesh out the receiver corps.
The names on the other side of the ball will be familiar.
Smith, Flanagan and Raymond will man the line in Lakota's base-3 front.
Kirkpatrick and Ferree return to anchor the linebackers, and the secondary will have Julian Boose back at corner while Timmons moves from linebacker to safety.
Jordan Jaso and sophomore Hunter Greiner also return as a defensive backs, while King, Guerra, Wagner and Arriaga are back as linebackers. Below and James will rotate in again along the line.
"It looks like we're a lot faster than we were before. The outside backers can run. Last year we had some struggles with that," Vodika said. "They may be small, but, man, they get all over the field. We will have that opportunity to cover better."
And they want to perform better and contend for the final MAL championship.
"The league is a good league with good coaches, and we respect it, but we want a piece of it. We don't want to be known as the eternal homecoming game," Vodika said. "We've said that, we're honest with the kids, we're flat-out telling them there isn't anybody who respects us because we haven't done anything, and that's probably rightfully so.
"If we can just get in those games and pull some out in the fourth quarter, all of a sudden we're going to be a legit football team. I have every bit of confidence we're going to give the kind of effort we need," he said. "How many wins will that equate to? I have no idea. I do know this: I like this group of kids."