Turning around a high school football program takes time. A new coach who comes in needs the chance to get his players to adjust to his style of play. He needs time to improve conditioning and training methods. He needs time to build team unity and cohesion.
Coaches just need time, and that's understandable. If ever there was a case where such patience and faith has been rewarded, it's in Ypsilanti, Mich., where one of the local high schools finds itself headed to the playoffs without any precedent at all.
The dramatic turnaround at Ypsilanti (Mich.) Lincoln High is nothing short of shocking: Less than a year after finishing the 2010 campaign without a single win, the Railsplitters have already qualified for the 2011 playoffs, earning a berth following a 27-12 victory against rival Ypsilanti (Mich.) High on Friday. As noted by the Detroit News, through eight games, the Railsplitters are 6-2, a major change from the 3-51 record the program had put up across the past six seasons.
"This is fun," Lincoln coach Chris Westfall told the News. "It's been a long road. We deserve to be here [playoff-bound]. We're a darn good defensive team. We're legitimate that way. And our offense is coming around."
The deeper into stats one goes, the more impressive Lincoln's 2011 campaign becomes. Westfall's career record at Lincoln had been 3-33 in four years at the helm before he doubled that win total this year. Yet, there was little pressure to get rid of Westfall because he had actually done better than his predecessors; the coach helped Lincoln break a 30-game losing streak in 2008.
Lincoln's rise has been keyed by a large veteran presence on the team's roster, but those players had little experience winning games, either. The Railsplitters entered the 2011 season on a brutal 14-game losing streak. That was halted in the season opener and the rest, as they say, is history.
"It's amazing that we're in the playoffs, especially after last year," junior star Tyree Waller told the News. "This is a great team to play on. It's a totally different atmosphere in practice."
It's likely that the atmosphere will be pretty good in the playoffs, too, though the Lincoln players don't have to take anyone's word for that anymore. Now they can experience it themselves.