By Steve Robinson | August 18, 2011 - 10:53 pm
Posted in Category: Olympia HS, Pekin Daily Times

STANFORD – Having finished the 2010 football season winless – for the second time in the last five seasons – Stanford Olympia High School’s football program has begun taking a fresh approach to the game as their season begins in preparation for their first game Aug. 26 against Peoria Manual.

A new athletic director, Bob Svencner, opted to hire an assistant coach from last year’s team who, by trade, did not come from the education field.

New Spartans head coach Michael Rathbun’s top assignment: Get young men who played in a modestly successful area JFL program to help carry that success over into their high school years.

Rathbun theorizes that Stanford Olympia administrators knew he’d “been involved with (the Spartans) team last year, knew I had been involved with JFL, (and) that I’d seen the development of these kids, and now that I’m involved with them at the high school, could be able to see where there’s a separation” between varsity and freshmen athletes, and where the high school program is lacking.

The people in town have wondered about that disconnect, too, Rathbun said. For his part, the 44-year-old coach has spent the off-season and training camp focusing on the team’s work ethic. So far, Rathbun seems pleased with his team’s reboot.

Position-By-Position: Sophomore Austin Rogers will get the nod at quarterback for the varsity, handing off to a backfield of sophomore Jason Mann, senior Blaze Gottschalk; and juniors Michael Rathbun and Wyatt Lang.

Oly’s receiving corps will be heavy with upperclassmen, with seniors Harley Litwiler and Matt Schmidt; juniors Rikkie McKown, Cole Goff, and Sam Hensley; and sophomore Zach Cleinmark.

Seniors Jack Turner and Eric Sheppelman; sophomores Brady Whitaker and Garrett Kelson; and junior Kyle Ledbetter, serving as Oly’s front line, will try keeping opposing defenses at bay.

Litwiler and sophomore Bret Reid will go on duty as kicker and field goal and extra-point kicker for the Spartans this season.

On defense, a four-man linebacking corps of Gottschalk, Rathbun, Schmidt, and Goff will be on duty. Defensive line members attempting to disrupt opposing offenses will consist of Kelson; Turner; Ledbetter; Eric Sheppleman, and Mann.

Hensley, Harley Litwiler, McKown, Cleinmark, and sophomore Dalton Talley will be in the defensive backfield.

Having just 44 boys on the varsity roster leaves doors open for opportunities for many on the team this season, Coach Rathbun said. “To look at it from a positive side, low numbers means our players will get a lot of experience. Sooner or later, that’s going to pay off.”

Squib Kicks: The Spartans will open their 2011 campaign at home on Aug. 26 against Peoria Manual….Olympia will have just five returning seniors this season….Rathbun served as defensive coordinator under former Spartans head coach Matt Koeppel, and will continue serving double-duty as defensive coordinator while being head coach…..Oly’s Oct. 21 opponent, Chicago St. Francis de Sales, will make their first appearance to Stanford this season. Chicago St. Francis de Sales is essentially a traveling team because they have no home field, and has a total student population of roughly 300 students.

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