STANFORD – When the 2011 football season began, then-new Stanford Olympia High head coach Mike Rathbun wanted his players to reacquaint themselves with the fundamentals of the game, something he saw as lacking at that time. The Spartans last season, Rathbun said, were a team that, despite not winning many games last season, was a squad that was learning to carry through with the fundamentals of the game they had learned under their new leader.

As the 2012 season prepares to open, Rathbun said he wants his team to continue playing solid football and start by picking up where they left off when last season ended: By remembering the skills they learned last year. So far, Rathbun said, this Spartans squad is “considerably farther ahead” of getting their skills to sink in than they were at this time last year.

“You can’t even compare last year’s team to this year’s team,” Rathbun said. “(This year’s team) has had an extra year with this offense (and) an extra year with this defense. Now, we can start adding little things that I think will make a difference in the long run.”

Items falling into the category of “little things” include installing different coverages and adding new blocking forms to plays. “Nothing Earth-shattering,” Rathbun said. “But overall, I would say the kids retained 85 percent to 90 percent of what we did last year, which made picking up (what we are teaching them now) that much easier.”

The Spartans will begin the quest of improving on last year’s 2-7 record, which included a 1-6 mark in the Corn Belt Conference by starting with a non-conference home game against Champaign’s St Thomas More High School on Friday, Aug. 24, starting with a 7p.m. kickoff.

“One of the things I was relatively content with was that we played every down hard, even when we were getting thumped,” Rathbun said. “The kids continued to come back and play to the best of their ability.”

Part of the Spartans’ challenges last year stemmed from lacking experience and size, Rathbun said. “This year, we’ve got another year’s-worth of experience and I’m cautiously optimistic as to where we’ll end up this year.” The second-season head coach said he won’t publicly say where in the standings he believes his troops will finish up by the time the regular season ends in October.

As to position-by-position, Rathbun said he has just five players locked in to starting roles, currently. But that does not include quarterback. He has only tapped three linebackers and two linemen to start opening night. “Everything else is up for grabs right now,” he explained.

Such conflicts over who should start are at quarterback, where, as Rathbun explains it, junior Austin Rogers, Oly’s signal-caller last season; and fellow junior Austin Bruner, find themselves in a fierce competition to start under center when the season begins.

“Austin Bruner brings a little more athleticism to the position,” Rathbun said. “But what he lacks in the experience Austin Rogers has from having played it last year.

“Austin Rogers is a pretty savvy player,” Rathbun said. “He’s tough and a real good athlete – a three-sport athlete – and…he’s just a good all-round athlete.”

Rogers and Bruner – and all Oly players looking to be starters, for that matter – won’t know the results of their coaching staff’s decision making until Aug. 20, the Monday before the season kicks off, Rathbun said.

“I think we have the capacity to surprise some opponents who will be looking past us,” Rathbun concluded.

Squib Kicks: Offensive lineman Kyle Ledbetter re-injured his left shoulder recently, a shoulder he had injured during his sophomore year. He tore his labrum and will miss his senior season………Olympia welcomed two new assistants to the staff: Derrick Bauer and Tom Atwell….The Spartans’ first away game opens the Corn Belt Conference portion of their schedule, at Pontiac, on Aug. 31, 7p.m.

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