Ed Gotwals: Mark Luther sets his priorities for success
The Chambersburg football team was 1-9 last fall. The Trojans were outscored by an average of 41-9, and gave up more than 60 points three times.
In the month and a half after his first season as head coach, Mark Luther has watched film of those games. Rather than being depressed, Luther is more positive than you would expect.
"Even with those kind of scores we had, we're not that far off," Luther said. "Maybe not to win those games, but to being more competitive and giving ourselves a chance to win."
At first glance, that may seem like an overly optimistic statement.
But there are two things to consider here: The Trojans' schedule was a doozy, and Luther did not have enough time to get his team properly prepared (more on that later).
Yeah, I know Chambersburg always has a rigorous schedule. But this year's was abnormally strong. Of the 10 opponents, eight reached the playoffs, and another, Carlisle, almost certainly would have except that it also plays in the Mid Penn Commonwealth. Of those eight teams, six won in their first round playoff game.
It's a fact that the winning percentage of the Trojans' opponents (.784) was the highest in District 3. Only Cumberland Valley (.720) was even close.
In the years since the Mid Penn formed, 2016 may have been the strongest the Commonwealth has been, top to bottom. Among Chambersburg's three non-league foes, Red Lion was 10-0 and Shippensburg 9-1, and the crossover game was against Cedar Cliff (9-1).
Put a team like Chambersburg - under a first-year coach with not enough quality veterans - on the field against that lineup, and you get 1-9.
"There probably wasn't another team in the state that played against numbers like that," Luther said.
The Trojans were also at a disadvantage having to learn Luther's new system, under some new assistants. He was hired in March, and that simply wasn't enough time to get his team ready, even if it wasn't against a nightmare schedule.
"We tried to implement our system, and it was like we were teaching them Russian," Luther said. "Even by the time the games started, the kids sometimes didn't believe the keys, or didn't react correctly, or were in the wrong place.
"Once we get to this spring, it'll be completely different. They'll already know the system and we can refine it. By the time we get to next fall, the game will slow down for them and they'll react better."
In the meantime, Luther and his staff are working to improve the team in two areas - getting stronger and changing the mentality.
"We've been lifting for two and half weeks and already I see a difference," Luther said. "They're hitting the weights, they're competing with each other and we're pushing them.
"But the biggest thing is we have to change the culture in order for us to compete in our conference. We need 40 guys who really want to be here and will work their tails off. We have to get the young kids involved so they know this is what it involves."
This year's junior class will supply the bulk of the experience for next fall. The sophomore class is not a strong one, but the ninth-grade team put up a 9-1 record this fall and, according to Luther, has a lot of talent and potential.
"We had a lot of juniors get a lot of playing time this year and they are being good leaders now," Luther said. "If we can combine them with some of (next year's) sophomores and become a team, I think we'll be much better by August.
"We don't have any five-star recruits, but we have a good core of committed kids."
He's hoping that's enough to move up the ladder next fall.
Ed Gotwals is sports editor of Public Opinion and the Lebanon Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.