There was excitement surrounding the Skyline football program again this year. After a miserable 2012 campaign in which the team went winless, the Thunderbirds rebounded this season with a winning record of 5-4. “The kids used last season as a motivator,” observed Skyline head coach Jon Novotny. “It made them want to work hard in the off-season, and then during the season, to make sure that didn’t happen again.” It didn’t happen again. The T-Birds opened the season with a loss to South Barber, but they broke into the winning column in week 2 at Cunningham, the team’s first victory since 2011. That was followed by a loss to South Central, but then the second win came against Otis-Bison. At 2-2, Skyline then faced two tough opponents in Fairfield and Kiowa County, which dropped their record to 2-4. At that point of the season, having been removed from playoff contention, Novotny knew his team needed something to play for, so he challenged them to win their final three games and make 2013 a winning season. That’s just what the T-Birds did, as they defeated St. John and Macksville in successive weeks, then accomplished the winning season by outlasting Kinsley in the season’s final contest, giving themselves a 3-game winning streak in the process. “I was very pleased the way we finished on a positive note,” mentioned Coach Novotny. “To see the kids buckle down and put forth the time and energy needed to win those last three games against some tough teams was very gratifying.” “One thing that really improved for us was our mental toughness,” Novotny continued. “A lot of times at this level, confidence trumps talent, and as our mental toughness improved as the season went on, you could see the kids reinforcing each other. That helped us fight through some of those tough games that could have gone either way, but our kids were learning how to win.” For their efforts, seven T-Birds were named to the All-District VI 8-man teams, which is the equivalent of all-league. 8-man teams do not usually play a league schedule, given that they have 5 or 6 district games to play. Other teams in District VI are Macksville, St. John, Kiowa County, Fairfield, Kinsley and South Central. Dustin Weber received dual first team honors as a running back and as a defensive back. Landon Lee was named first team offensive line and Daniel Hacker made first team at linebacker. Second team offense nods went to Layton Kenworthy at OL and Daniel Hacker at RB. Brady McComb was recognized at D-line and Cole Patterson was second team punter. Honorable mentions went to Cole Patterson at QB and Brandon Abbott as a receiver. “It was good to see so many of our kids get that recognition,” Novotny said, “especially considering the number of tough teams and good athletes in our district.” Weber led the T-Birds in rushing this season with 1,412 yds and 21 TDs. Daniel Hacker added 520 yds and 9 TDs. Cole Patterson threw for 56 yards per game from the QB spot. Defensive leaders were Hacker with 80 tackles, Weber with 51 tackles and an INT, and Brady McComb with 69 tackles and 6 sacks. As a team, the T-Birds offense was a juggernaut, especially in the latter stages of the season. They averaged 333 yards per game, with 272 of that coming on the ground and 61 through the air. The future looks bright for the T-Birds as quarterback Cole Patterson and receiver Brandon Abbott are the only starters who will be lost to graduation. “We’re going to miss their versatility,” Coach Novotny said of his departing seniors. “It may take more than just one guy to replace each of them.” The T-Birds did not accomplish one of their team goals this season—reaching the playoffs. But the coaching staff and returning players are excited about 2014. After suffering through the growing pains of 2012, then learning how to win in 2013, the Skyline Thunderbirds could be on the brink of a special season next year.