By Barry Dalton
The Van-Far football team’s first practice of the school year, on Aug. 10, was abruptly interrupted by high winds just as the players had gathered on the field. As a sudden rainstorm approached, Head Coach John Kliewer went into action, quickly getting his players into the nearby elementary school before the heavy rains started.
This is Kliewer’s second year as head coach of the high school varsity football team, and despite a disappointing 1-9 record in his first season, he is bullish about this year’s chances.
“We’re young, but I think we have some talent,” Kliewer said. “I think we can compete in this conference as long as we stay on the right path and stay healthy.”
Last year’s uneven start may be attributed in part to a few players joining the team late for various personal and health reasons. By the time they were cleared to play, the team had already had three games.
“We got a new batch of guys who were athletically talented but just hadn’t had the reps or game experience,” Kliewer said. “We almost kind of restarted there, in week four, just getting those guys acclimated to live action.”
Kliewer had also introduced a new offense in his first year as coach, which the players had to learn, and tinkered with the defense.
“We were talented, but as individuals it took awhile for us to get a hold of concepts and get our fundamentals down,” Kliewer said.
This year’s team has 25 players but only four seniors. The team does, however, have a good number of returning sophomores and juniors.
“They all played both ways last year and were big impact players for us,” Kliewer said.
The team this year has a lot of speed, which is something it will try to utilize effectively, with a cadre of solid running backs and receivers. Where the team needs to improve from last year, though, is position depth and team stamina. There are a number of returning players from last year who had quite a bit of playing time.
“Athletically, we should be able to play with anybody,” Kliewer said. “The thing that’s going to hurt us at the end of the day is just having mature backups. Guys who can play more special teams so the starters can get a break.”
Although the team was prone to mistakes last year at home, where it should have been in its comfort zone, it also had moments of greatness on the road that fuel the coach’s optimism.
“On the road we played really, really good against really good teams,” Kliewer said. “The co-conference champs, Wright City and Montgomery County, it was neck and neck until the fourth quarter, and we just ran out of steam. They had more subs, they were more fresh, and we ran out of juice.”
All in all, the coach feels this year’s team has a greater depth of knowledge and has learned hard lessons.
“We might be young in terms of age, as an average,” Kliewer said. “But the guys that are returning all played last year. So there’s experience in our youth.”