By Ryan Kaczmarski
The Lutheran West High School football program is a program that has a rich history of winning.
The Longhorns have four conference championships under their belt, most recently in the 2005 season. The best regular season record they have ever had was in 2002, when they went 9-1 on their way to the school’s third conference championship, and the first of two regional berths (2002, 2005).
In more recent history, winning seasons have not been the case. The Longhorns have accumulated a 19-31 regular season record over the last five years, but things are about to change.
In early May of this year, Dave Stupka was chosen to change the Longhorns football team back into a winner.
“Everybody here at the school has been very welcoming to our coaching staff and to myself,” he said. “The players have responded tremendously in the offseason with the offseason lifting program. (We’ve had) pretty much full cooperation by everybody here at the school.
“I always had a high opinion of (Lutheran West) from afar, and it’s lived up to my expectations,” Stupka added. “It’s a great place to be and I’m blessed to be here.”
Stupka has been the head football coach at Midpark High School over the last three years, and is also the former head coach at St. Peter Chanel High School, where he was named the Division V State of Ohio Coach of the Year, Division V district Coach of the Year and the North Coast League Coach of the Year in 2006.
Stupka said that the impending merger of Midpark and Berea high schools had no bearing on his decision to take the Lutheran West job.
“It was really the opportunity that arose here, and just my knowledge of the school – competing against Lutheran West in football and basketball when I was a football coach athletic director at Chanel – I was just really impressed with the school, the student body and the personnel here at the school,” Stupka said. “All of the school personnel have always been top-notch.
“I love the religious and spiritual aspect of the school,” he added. “I think that is very important to my family. It’s just a great opportunity to be a part of something at a really special place.”
Now that Stupka has had a few months to get acclimated to his new surroundings at Lutheran West, he is ready to get to the business of winning football games.
“When we came in, we told the players, ‘Everybody starts with a clean slate and we’re moving forward as a football program,’” he said. “Obviously, as a coaching staff we have our way of doing things, and what we try to do is to do things that are in the best interest of the football program and the football players.
“Our goal is to get a little bit better each day,” Stupka added. “We want to draw on the rich history of success that we have here, yet try to start a new chapter here without dwelling on the (recent) past.”
With the preseason camp just opening for the football program, Stupka has not put any one offensive scheme into effect.
“Our challenge as we started off, and the challenge for our players, is that we’re trying to fit a system of football that’s going to fit our personnel and the type of player(s) we have here,” he said. “We think we have that. Now it’s the challenge of fitting the right players in the right individual spots.
“The players have responded well to that, because everything – in all three phases of the game (offense, defense and special teams) – is new to them,” Stupka added. “They’ve (the players) had a really good work ethic – the best I’ve ever been around as a coach – but it comes down to: We have to continue this pace and we have to do it day by day.”
The Longhorns will also be playing on a brand-new field this year, ripping out the natural grass in favor of an artificial surface.
“Everybody here at (Lutheran) West is excited (about the new field),” Stupka said. “It’s the first stage of a capital campaign to improve the physical plan of the school. It’s a big deal, and a lot of people have sacrificed a great deal to make this happen, because there’s such a strong community (here) and a strong sense of responsibility with the students and alumni.”
Lutheran West will kick off the 2012 regular season on the road against Firelands High School on Aug. 24, while the first game on the new field will be on Aug. 31 against visiting Hawken High School.