For the Bluestem Lions the season really is not about the wins and losses. It’s about development of players that are trying to build a foundation.
While that was not as evident in the 62-0 loss on Monday night to Belle Plaine, it can be seen in the hustle on the field.
"These guys never quit on us, no matter the score," Bluestem head coach Ethan Haworth said. "That’s what I love about them."
Bluestem’s roster only shows 23 players. However, on Monday night it was much more bleak than that as the Lions rolled out 21 to start the game and ended up finishing with 16.
Freshman Tucker Gibb stepped in front of a pass and intercepted the ball in the third quarter. In most cases, freshman don’t play in varsity games, let alone junior varsity. When the numbers are low, everyone is asked to step up.
"It’s tough dealing with so many injuries," Haworth said. "Give our kids credit for keeping their heads in the game."
The players did that as they fought to the bitter end, a failed fourth down attempted with the clock already running ended their hopes of scoring against Belle Plaine.
Of those 23 players that are rostered for Bluestem, seven of them are freshman. So, the Lions are shorthanded and are playing freshman in a class up from last year. Bluestem was in Class 1A a season ago and are bumped up to 2A. They play the likes of Garden Plain in this class.
The numbers are a glaring difference for Bluestem as Belle Plaine had 32 kids suited up and played three different quarterbacks.
"We’re building that foundation with those underclassmen," Haworth said. "That starts by getting kids involved as a younger age, like elementary school."
12 of the 21 players are underclassmen. Even then, a large part of what hurts Bluestem is the lack of experience. Players coming out for their junior and senior years and not playing the previous seasons, puts them behind the 8-ball of their counterparts that may have been playing for the last few years through middle and high school.
"Our staff is doing a good job of talking to the kids in the hallways," Haworth said. "We’re doing what we can to recruit kids to come out."
For Haworth trying to build relationships with those players who are not football players, it can be tough. During the day he works for the City of Andover. However, his assistants do work as teachers in the building.
Bluestem isn’t known as a football powerhouse. They have currently loss nine straight and are 2-23 dating back to Oct. 2017. It’s not what they want and it’s not what Haworth, who graduated from Bluestem in 2010 and played football at Southwestern College wants.
Haworth was dealt a tough hand as Bluestem has been a head coaching turnstile. They have seen six head coaches in since 2010, a little over a coach a year. Haworth is in his second year is trying to get his program installed and not only the high school level.
"I love this school," Haworth said. "We’re trying to get that foundation through these freshmen and down through middle school."
Bluestem may have lost on the field on Monday night, a game that had already been moved due to injuries, but they’re building to becoming a winner.
There were no hanging heads after the loss. No tears were soaked because of the defeat. Most of them see the bigger picture and the light at the end of the tunnel.
"It won’t be overnight success," Haworth said. "I have a feeling we’ll get there if we can just get kids to buy into our program."