Managing expectations, internally and externally, is one of Brian Coleman’s most important tasks right now.
After leading Summit to four victories last fall – matching the program’s total from its first four seasons of competition – plenty of folks are anxious to see what’s to come.
“They’ve got some expectations on ‘em now,” Coleman said regarding his third Spartan squad. “I hope they react positively to them. I think they will. They’ve worked their butts off.”
With a previous stop at Forrest and time as an assistant at Riverdale, Coleman typically takes an ‘old school’, wait-and-see attitude when it comes to discussing his team and its prospects. But given the progress Summit made last season after finishing winless in 2014, he sees the importance in feeding his players’ collective psyche.
“I’m one of those coaches that always tries to downplay things, but I think these guys deserve some credit for working hard,” he said. “I want to let them know their hard work is paying off, but they’ve got to keep working.
“We’re nowhere near where we need to be, or where we want to be.”
If the Spartans are to reach the heights they’re seeking in a tough Region 5-5A, junior Tai Carter will be in the midst of the climb. The 5-11, 170-pounder is a two-way threat out of the offensive backfield, rushing for 737 yards and seven touchdowns last fall with a pair of receiving TDs, and creates problems for opposing offenses as a ballhawking cornerback.
“He’s still a stud,” Coleman said of Carter. “He’s a hard worker and he runs the ball hard.”
Quarterback Michael Zakrzewski continues to develop in the team’s Wing-T offense, while keeping Coleman on his toes as the two try to offset some summer concerns.
“He’s gotten better, making smart decisions,” the coach said of the 5-11, 155-pounder. “But 7 on 7 kinda ruined him a little bit. He’s throwing the ball in tight windows – almost too tight – when he can just pull it down and go.”
Other ground-game threats for Summit include the senior trio of Christian Snyder, Tyler Palmer and Dalton Fisher. Clearing the way is an offensive line that returns four of five starters, including juniors Kody Davis and Mason Leatherwood.
Snyder (6-2, 205) will also figure into the defensive plans at linebacker along with Robert Holmes and Nick Johnson. Carter, Fisher, Palmer and Jay Richardson are expected to anchor the Spartan secondary.
“We’ve got another year of the same (3-4) scheme defensively; we’re another year wiser and stronger,” Coleman said. “We’re still undersized. People are going to be bigger than us, but we’ll just slant those linemen. We’re not going to play head-up and try to crunch somebody. We’re going to get in those gaps.”
The coach hopes his team’s athleticism and experience – Summit loses just one starter from 2015 -- will spur continued improvement after maintaining postseason hopes into the final third of the season.
“The competition is tough,” Coleman said. “We’re playing against a lot of good coaching staffs that have been around. The speed of the game really changes from (Class 2A) to 5A.
“It takes some getting used to. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”