Tell a coach he'll have 16 freshmen on his squad, and he'll usually start aging right before your eyes.
The head coach for the Moffat County High School soccer team is faced with that very dilemma, but he can't stop smiling.
This is a seasoned group of freshmen, and head coach Eric Johnson and his assistant, Mick Havrilla are happy to have them.
"Mick's been with them for years," Johnson said, "and a lot of these guys played on the traveling team. They have a lot of experience playing together."
Havrilla has coached many of the players since youth soccer, and he believes their potential is great.
"These freshmen have been developed here in Craig," Havrilla said. "They have more
knowledge of the game than the young guys years past. They are freshmen, but they are not green freshmen."
The immediate benefits, according to Johnson, center around the early season.
"We can start more into our season than we normally would," he said referring to the teams level of preparedness. "It's like starting halfway through the season."
That jump is important given the style of play Johnson and Havrilla stress.
"I coach a possession game," Johnson said. "It allows us to open more field space, and it's a
slower pace game."
Johnson also likes the fact that possession-style soccer allows his team to spread things around better. "It utilizes the whole team," he said, "and it keeps the other team guessing about what we're trying to do." This could be the year that possession game begins to pay dividends.
"It's something I've tried to work in over the years, and it's finally
starting to take shape," Johnson said. "Mick has really helped with that."
The two coaches also stress class on the field in terms of sportsmanship.
"We want the boys to play with class on the field, and to play our game don't -play a head game with the other team," Johnson said.
Havrilla also feels
positive about the chemistry of the team.
"What we've done, is we've built a team here," Havrilla said. "There's no varsity vs. JV, no
underclassmen. We have a team, and that's our strength."
It's a young team, but we have a lot of talent," said senior, Isidro Quezada. "I think our strength this year is
conditioning," Quezada added. "We're also really playing as a team this year there's no griping about running or anything."
Brad Hurd, Brendon Beachman and Kolt Lake, three of the freshmen on the squad, all pointed to speed as a team strength.
Having so much youth can be a challenge, too, according to Havrilla.
"It'll be a challenge to utilize them enough to keep them interested," Havrilla said. "It's
important to keep them interests so we have the same sixteen when they're seniors."
It's that future, when these freshmen will be experienced juniors and seniors that has the coaches smiling the most.
"It could really be something," Havrilla said.
The team opens its season this Thursday in Craig against Central at 4 p.m. The game will take place at Loudy Simpson Park. The Bulldog strikers then head to Colorado Springs Friday for a weekend tournament. In all, the team stands to play five games before heading into league play.
"It will be great for us to get five games under out belts before league play begins," Johnson said.
Johnson set a
minimum goal of achieving a .500 season with his young squad.
"The ultimate goal, though, is post season play," he said. "I'd like to see everybody giving 110% all year long. That way we're clicking as a team," the fourth-year coach said.
With such a seasoned group of freshman, they should certainly be
clicking by the time league play opens Sept. 12.