Everywhere I go lately – whether it’s Wal-Mart or SuperValu, another sporting event, the gas station – I keep hearing the same questions over and over.
What’s wrong with Linton this year? What’s up with the Miners?
I even heard the questions from the officiating crew, the chain gang and a few fans at Dugger Saturday.
So, what is wrong with the Linton Miners this year? In a word: Nothing!
There’s a lot to like about this year’s Miner football team.
Gavin House and Clayton Hauser have emerged as a pair of dynamic playmakers. Devyn Robertson at 6-2 is a leaping downfield receiving threat.
Luke Lannan has been a bulldog at running back, as expected. Former wingback-turned-quarterback Lance Dyer has speed, shiftiness and breakaway potential.
When pressed into service Friday, sophomore backup quarterback Trey Goodman demonstrated the ability to deliver the ball on target.
Senior co-captains Ben Burris and Drake Cunningham spent the summer in Army basic training and have returned as “lean, mean, fightin’ machines.” (Army training, sir!)
And there’s more. If you see these guys up close as I have it’s clearly visible how much time and effort they’ve put into the weight room. They play hard and compete every night.
So why are they 0-3 for the first time since 1991? There are several obvious factors. And I’ll address each one.
For starters, a “down” season or an “off year” happens everywhere. Here in Linton we’ve been lucky enough to have had only two or three of those in the last 25 years or so.
You know who else is 0-3 this year? Danville.
The Danville Warriors have won eight sectionals, four regionals and one semistate. Last year the Warriors were 13-1, losing 28-7 to eventual 3A state champ Evansville Memorial in the semistate.
This year Danville lost to Cascade for the first time since 1978.
The team who beat Linton Friday, the Monrovia Bulldogs? Monrovia was 4-6 last year – two years removed from winning the 2A state title. Yes, they were bumped up to Class 3A under the IHSAA Tournament Success Factor. More on that later.
And Sullivan, our neighbors and rivals to the west? In 2014 the Arrows went 5-5 – and they beat Linton that year. Sullivan posted records of 3-7 in 2010, 4-6 in 2009 and 2-8 in 2008.
In 2016 the Miners buried the Arrows 48-7. Sullivan went on to finish 10-2.
Kokomo reached the 5A State Finals last year. They too are off to an 0-3 start. The ‘Kats were blasted 77-0 by New Palestine in their opener.
Cardinal Ritter, Linton’s Week Five opponent is also 0-3.
Oh, and Lafayette Central Catholic – the team who denied the Miners’ first state title bid in 2015 – started 0-3 on the way to a 4-8 season last year.
Last week a discussion on the Gridiron Digest message board mentioned Linton and Lafayette Central Catholic were both off to 0-2 starts for the first time since 1991. (LCC won Friday, defeating Northwestern of Howard County 55-0.)
As mentioned 1991 was the last time Linton started 0-3.
As often happens in discussions among football fans the conversation diverges. Talk turned to speculation as to how Pioneer might fare when they move up to Class 2A next year (presumably), minus Jack Kiser and the rest of the Class of 2019.
A voice of reason then sounded from one of the Pioneer faithful:
“But who cares about next year? If you are a Pioneer fan enjoy the journey this year! There are no guarantees. Be grateful for what we have now and focus on the present. Next year will be here all too soon.”
Reminds me of a column I wrote in late November 2015 – just before the Miners’ first State Finals appearance – titled: “Miners and Miner fans, enjoy the ride!”
Here’s an excerpt from that literary masterpiece:
“Savor every moment this week. And don’t take it for granted. These things don’t last forever.
In a small school like Linton there might be a class or two come through that simply doesn’t have quite the athletes teams of the recent past have had. The occasional downturn is almost inevitable, especially in smaller schools.”
Not saying I predicted it. But an occasional down cycle is predictable. It happens to some degree everywhere. And I listed five notable examples above.
In fact it’s one of the biggest arguments against the Tournament Success Factor. As one Hall of Fame coach I know has said, “The kids who got you moved up aren’t around anymore. And the kids who are left behind pay for it.”
A longtime Linton fan has called it the “punishment factor.”
I prefer to call it the “tournament reward factor.” And I say that not tongue-in-cheek. Tournament success should be rewarded and recognized. And it is, by a bump up in class.
Look, we all know why the IHSAA instituted the Tournament Success Factor. It was a reaction to all the “hue and cry” surrounding the private and parochial schools winning an inordinate proportion of state titles and semistates – particularly in the lower classifications.
In a three-year span from 2010-2012 parochial schools won state championships in all four lower classes – 1A-4A. And in each of those three years at least six of the eight state finalists 1A-4A were parochials – seven in 2012.
Since then, North Vermillion, Monrovia, Linton and Southridge have all won state titles.
Yes, it is tougher to win a sectional in a higher class. A team has to go through at least four or five other good teams to get there instead of none, or maybe one.
If you’re winning sectional games 76-8 and 74-0 you probably should have been in a higher class to begin with.
So no, I’m not an opponent of the success factor. I do think it should be for a longer period than two years. A program needs time to adjust and develop the talent to compete at the higher level.
Then why do traditionally strong programs struggle initially when they move up in class? The Hall of Fame coach gave us the obvious answer.
Roster turnover. Graduations.
I don’t want to say Linton fans have been spoiled by success. Quite the contrary – success is the expectation and rightly so.
But you’ve gotta admit, the success the Miners had in 2015 and 2016 would be mighty hard to duplicate. A tough act to follow for sure.
Linton had two really special senior classes in 2015-16 and 2016-17. And those guys came up through the ranks, following in the footsteps of three straight semistate teams from 2011-13.
One of the assistants on the Linton coaching staff told me, “We get a Dylan Morris once every 20 years.” And how often does a Tyler Meurer come along?
Not to mention, a majority of the guys on those State Finals teams were three-or four-year starters.
So what happened was – aside from a trio of Wabash Valley All-Stars – you had a handful of seniors last year with little to no varsity experience, who wound up being solid contributors. But, they were inexperienced and there were quite a few sophomores in the starting lineup.
This year there are only five seniors on the roster.
As I said a program needs time to adjust and develop the talent to compete at the higher level. The good news is the 11th through the eighth grade classes seem to have potential.
In preparation for postseason success Linton gradually began beefing up its schedule. And when the schedule includes four recent state champions, plus a state finalist from a year ago, it isn’t easy.
But it’s necessary to expose a team to that level of competition. They’ll encounter teams of that caliber sooner or later in the postseason.
Now that the Miners are 0-3 though I’ve heard comments, “The schedule’s too tough.”
It is tough. As coach Brian Oliver points out, Linton isn’t playing Dugger and Wood Memorial anymore. They’re losing – but they’re losing to quality teams.
Tough, but fair. I think Charlie Karazsia has done a masterful job assembling the current schedule.
Southridge and Monrovia were great additions – the kinds of teams Linton needs to play to test themselves.
Linton is always going to play Sullivan. The Arrows won this year. But the Miners had won 16 of the last 20.
North Vermillion and Cardinal Ritter are teams Linton has had an on-field postseason history with.
I think the Miner teams from 2011-2016 would have fared pretty well against this schedule.
Only a “super team” would stand a chance of going undefeated against this gauntlet. But I like the schedule the way it is.
And a few regular season losses does not necessarily equate to a “lost season.” Cathedral has won three state titles with five losses. Ritter was 5-4 when the Raiders won the 2016 2A title. Coincidentally Ritter started 0-3 that year.
As Oliver frequently mentions everything the Miners do 365 days a year is with the ultimate goal in mind – the postseason.
So there you have it – possible explanations for why the Linton Miners are 0-3 to start the 2018 season. The Tournament Success Factor, the departure of a couple special classes, the schedule, combined with the fact “downturns” happen everywhere...all have come together in one “imperfect storm.”
None of this of course changes the fact the Miners are 0-3. But I hope it provides some perspective.
As the season progresses I believe this year’s team will grow and develop. And I hope Miner fans continue to support this team.