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Published: Friday, 10/12/2007

Blissfield: goals no worry; coach sings new theme song, players make it work

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Blissfield coach Ron Estes and Royals players, from left, Johnny Estes, Dean  Schnieder, Luke Shrader and Jake Isley are trying to go unbeaten in nine games. The Royals are 7-0. 
Blissfield coach Ron Estes and Royals players, from left, Johnny Estes, Dean Schnieder, Luke Shrader and Jake Isley are trying to go unbeaten in nine games. The Royals are 7-0.
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BLISSFIELD You could say Blissfield football coach RonEstes is a theme kind of guy.

Not long after he took over a then downtrodden program in 2002, he adopted a Bigger, Faster, Stronger catch phrase to coincide with the team s upgraded emphasis on weight training and conditioning.

The Royals ended a 33-game losing streak at the start of the 2002 season. They made the first of three straight playoff appearances in 2003 (the only ones in Blissfield s history), and won their first Lenawee County Athletic Association championship in 28 years in 2005 with a 6-0 mark (10-1 overall).

That 2005 team was quarterbacked by Estes senior son Andrew, whose younger brother Johnny, then a sophomore, started at cornerback. This year, Johnny, who for the past two years has doubled at quarterback, is one of 24 senior Royals trying to match their football predecessors.

Blissfield (7-0 overall) secured an outright LCAA title with last week s 34-6 win at Erie Mason, and looks to match the 2005 team s 9-0 regular season record with two remaining non-league contests.

The first is tonight at Albion, and the next comes next Friday against visiting Jonesville. Signature wins so far came in Week 1 against Tri-County Conference leader Sand Creek (6-1, 5-0 TCC), a 20-19 squeaker at home, and against visiting Onsted (6-1, 4-1), an 18-10 overtime thriller which ultimately decided the LCAA crown.

With the title settled, Blissfield looks to position itself for home-field advantage as deep into the playoffs as possible, most likely in Division 6. Michigan teams clinch playoff berths with a 6-3 record or better, but playoff divisions are not finalized until the regular season is complete.

Yes, the Royals appear poised to reach all of their goals. That s if they actually had any specific goals. Instead, coach Estes offered a new theme.

After the team missed out on a playoff berth by the narrowest of margins (10-7 on a late-game field goal at Whitmore Lake) last season, Estes got some not-so-positive feedback from a couple of seniors during his annual exit meeting with his graduating players.

They said they didn t really get out of the season what they wanted, recalled Estes, who admitted the response struck a nerve.

The usually goal-oriented Estes asked himself: Why are we always looking to get something out of whatever we do? He pondered this question long enough to decide to take a new approach: What if we had no goals this year and just looked at things differently? What if we looked at it as an approach rather than a goal, and not evaluate the season by what we got out of it?

Estes revealed this new philosophy to his players during preseason conditioning, and tried to sell them on something that sounded more like the spirit of Christmas than a footballapproach.

How good could we be if everyone was unselfish and thought about giving instead of receiving, Estes asked his senior-dominated group, if you all just gave the most you could as individuals and not worry about wins and losses?

It was risky because, for a kid, that s probably not what they want to hear. It took a special bunch of kids who were mature enough to understand it and buy into it, and they have.

The Royals, who employ almost a complete two-platoon system of starters, have been solid on both sides of the ball, and usually have an upper hand fatigue-wise over opponents late in games.

Blissfield is averaging 299 yards of offense (248 rushing) per game while yielding 181 yards (126 rushing) per contest to opponents. They have outscored foes 200-71.

The top ballcarriers in the Royals by-committee ground attack have been senior tailback Luke Shrader, who has carried 109 times for 694 yards and scored 10 TDs, and junior fullback Zach Waldvogel, who has added 549 yards on 103 rushes.

We have really good chemistry, Shrader said of how the new thought process has paid off. We ve come together as a team because we all put in the extra effort to step things up one more degree. In tight games, we ve pushed it to the limit and come out on top.

Johnny Estes, an All-LCAA and all-region DB for two years running, is the only full-time two-way starter, although other starters sub occasionally on the other side.

Estes has rushed 70 times for 352 yards and 10 TDs, and is 27-of-51 passing for 359 yards and seven TDs with no interceptions.

We ve got an unselfish group of players and we all kind of took it to heart, Estes said of his father s new approach. It s kind of different thinking about giving instead of worrying about what you get out of it.

But we just try to give and not expect things. We just figured, if we all gave enough of whatever we had, things would work out.

The top tacklers on defense have been senior linebackers Dean Schnieder (76) and Jon Martinez (70).

At first I was kind of surprised, Schnieder said of the concept, because it was the opposite of what I had heard my first two years in the program. But, the more I listened to coach explain it, the more it made sense to me. More than anything, I trust coach to lead us, and I knew he wouldn t lead us blindly.

Other returning senior starters include 6-foot-5, 260-pound nose tackle Steven Hauss, center Jake Isley, guard Michael Rueda, tight end Colby Lievens, wingback Brent Alcock, offensive tackle Conrad MacBeth, defensive tackle Kevin Klump and safety Jordan Marks.

What I got out of the coach s concept, Isley said, was that all we needed to worry about was what we were doing to better ourselves. Taking care of our end of the bargain first, and not worrying about the end result. The end result would take care of itself.

Like coach says, It s not about the X s and O s, it s about the Joes and Schmoes. You ll succeed if everybody gives their all.

Joes and Schmoes?

Sounds like a new theme.

Contact Steve Junga at: sjunga@theblade.com or 419-724-6461.



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