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Published: Thursday, 10/3/2002

No short answer for Mason's success


ERIE, Mich. - Erie Mason High School football coach John Wachsmuth apologizes in one breath for speaking in cliches, then indulges in the next by using terms such as “work ethic” and “commitment” and “staying focused” to explain why his Eagles are 5-0 and outscoring foes at a 35-9 clip per game this season.

When asked for a short list of key contributors from his team, which is ranked fifth in the Michigan Division 5 poll, Wachsmuth, like he's giving an Academy Award acceptance speech, rattles off 18 names with positions, years, heights, weights and contributions before pausing to catch his breath.

But the fact is, the Eagles are a good football team, and probably because of the reasons and the personnel their coach recites.

“Really, the key has been improvement,” said Wachsmuth. “We've come a long, long way since August.”

Wachsmuth, 58, can be excused for his old-school style, because that's what he is.

His third year at Erie Mason is his 28th as a high school head coach. He had stops at three other Michigan schools, plus four in Texas before returning to his home state. His best finish was in central Michigan at Fulton Middleton, where he reached the 1977 state semifinals. His seven years there were his most anywhere.

His future objective, besides the cliche “just trying to win every game we play,” is to keep Erie Mason a consistent winner and, someday, help the school match its 1987 Class C state championship.

“That's something we want to get back to eventually,” Wachsmuth said. “That state championship banner is a big source of pride around this school.

“My expectations of this team were pretty high, and their expectations of themselves were high. They do what they have to, to get the job done, and I enjoy coaching them.”

The Eagles' hunt for a Lenawee County Athletic Association title was built around a veteran offensive line that includes senior returnees Kurt Elinski at center, Jon Lucas at guard, Luke McGarry at tackle and Austin Roelfs at tight end.

Sophomore quarterback Aaron Roelfs (Austin's brother) triggers a solid rushing attack that features speedy 5-5, 140-pound senior tailback Shane Smith, who has 755 yards on 98 carries (a 7.7-yard average) and 13 touchdowns.

“He really makes things happen,” Wachsmuth said of Smith. “He's quick, has good vision, makes good cuts and good decisions, and he's strong for his size.”

“We're not setting individual goals,” Smith said. “We just want to win. The offensive line, they're the leaders. They do all the work opening the holes for me. I just run through them.”

Completing the backfield are junior fullback Dustin Meisner and Mason's do-everything slotback, junior Jared England, who also plays safety and punts. He has 341 yards on 39 rushes (8.7-yard average), 14 receptions for 204 yards and five TDs.

One area for which Wachsmuth reserves special praise is a linebacking corps that he says has evolved from question mark to team strength.

Returning middle linebacker Austin Roelfs leads in tackles with 45, and is flanked by newcomers Josh Zeigler (31 tackles) and Lucas (22), who have adapted quickly to their roles.

Next up for the Eagles is a trip to Blissfield (2-3, 1-2) tomorrow night, a non-league game at Carson City Crystal Oct. 12, then a probable showdown for the LCAA crown with defending champion Hudson at home on Oct. 18.

The Eagles need just one more win to secure their third straight playoff berth under Wachsmuth, and the school's fifth postseason entry in six years.

“This year we want to get through the first round of the playoffs,” said Austin Roelfs. “That's always been a goal.”

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