When Van Troxel conducted his first practice as Lake City High head football coach, he envisioned a team reaching the state playoffs - in five years.
The future has apparently arrived sooner than expected.
The Timberwolves, 6-1 overall, are on the brink of fulfilling Troxel’s dream in their fourth season.
“I remember the wonderment that was on all the coaches faces (the first day),” Troxel said. “We were looking at each other and were trying to get a grasp of how we were going to do all the things we needed to do and how we were going to teach.”
Troxel discovered that the future success lay with a promising freshman class. That group, now seniors, was a big contributor in LC’s most impressive victory to date, a 27-26 upset two weeks ago over defending State A-1 Division II champ Lewiston.
“We just didn’t beat our rival, we beat the defending state champion and we now become a legitimate program,” Troxel said. “We’ll be competitive year in and year out now.”
The game plan from the beginning called for implementing a weightlifting/ conditioning program and teaching fundamentals over and over at all levels.
Just three players had previous varsity experience on the first team in 1994, and several had never played. Only one T-Wolf would have started at Coeur d’Alene had there not been a split.
LC finished a predictable 0-9 in the first year. After 16 straight losses, the T-Wolves picked up their first victory the second season (1-8). They were 3-6 last year, but competitive with most teams.
“We’ve taken something positive from each season, even the first year,” Troxel explained. “The first year was tough, but something (the varsity) didn’t do was quit. They played their hearts out and that’s something we’ve tried to build on this year.
“We saw loyalty develop the second year. We started to develop team unity, a team concept. There was a lot of satisfaction the third year because we started to gain a team concept. We had come miles, but there was still a gap between us and the top teams in the league.”
One of the vital steps in the building process has come in the weight room.
“We’ve made gains the past three years, but we’ve still got a ways to go because everybody else had (weight) programs in place when we started. We’re close to equal in strength, but not quite there. Our juniors by next year will be the strongest we’ve ever had.”
Senior cornerback Josh Jaeger was among more than a dozen seniors who have dedicated themselves to consistent off-season training the past three years.
“We always thought we had a pretty good core coming up,” said Jaeger, whose biggest highlight this season came when he blocked a point-after kick against Lewiston that proved to be the difference in the game. “We’ve just worked really hard. It really doesn’t surprise me.”
The Class of ‘98 posted a 4-4 record on the freshman team and improved to 6-3 on the sophomore team. Of the 21 seniors who were in the program as freshmen, 17 are starters.
The solid foundation provided by the seniors appears to be the groundwork of even better things to come.
Five of 21 juniors start and several others have seen quality playing time. And there are 35 on the sophomore team, which is 6-0.
“Looking back, one of the most positive things to happen each year is we’ve finished with just about the same number of kids as we’ve started with, at all levels,” Troxel said. “That tells me we were doing something right.”
Standout senior running back Scott Bushnell gives a lot of the credit to his coaches, a varsity staff that includes Henry Hamill, Doug Cox, Russ Blank and Ed DePriest. They’ve been there since the first snap.
“They knew what they were talking about, and we had no reason not to believe them,” Bushnell said.
As practice started Monday, senior safety Todd Johnson talked about what LC can still accomplish, including success in the playoffs. And he mentioned a potential poison.
“We can’t become overconfident,” Johnson said, an echo to what his coach was preaching 25 yards away in a team huddle.
Overconfidence? Few would have thought that would be something the T-Wolves would face this year.
“We need better fundamentals, better execution than last Friday,” Troxel exhorted his team prior to practice. “You’ve hung together as a team so far. Practice hard, prepare to play hard. Let’s not be satisfied with six wins. Let’s get better.”
The ‘97 LC team can finish as the best of all teams in the city since the split.
LC steps out of Inland Empire League play this week with a non-league game at Lakeland. The T-Wolves can secure a playoff berth under a couple of scenarios Friday without playing a league contest.
At the least, LC would clinch a playoff spot with a win over CdA next week (LC beat CdA 40-13 in a non-league season opener).
LC’s victories have forced weekly alterations to season goals.
“We (the coaches) were together Sunday night and we were evaluating our game against Post Falls when somebody said, “We sound like we’re 1-6 and not 6-1,”’ Troxel said. “Our expectation level as coaches and players has changed.”
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