ANDERSON — Anderson Preparatory Academy football coach Joe Kwisz had more than a tough task of creating a competitive team from scratch.
Sure, when Anderson Prep was established, he had a slew of fit teenagers interested in ROTC training to pick from, but playing high school football in Indiana takes more than just fitness.
After the team’s first varsity season where Kwisz’s squad amassed just a single win, the Jets improved to a .500 record but lacked the consistency of a truly developed team.
“We’ve really spent a lot of time this offseason becoming a better football team overall,” he said. “Last year, we were kinda at the mercy of some really good athletes that had breakout plays. We were kinda a big-play team last year. Our big focus this year is sustaining offensive drives, keeping the other team’s defense on the field, while giving our defense a break.”
Kwisz said often last season, his defense would stay on the field for long periods of time — sometimes even an entire quarter.
It’s been a long road before Kwisz and his staff felt like they were seeing consistent improvement over the past few seasons, but he said he thinks this season might be the year for APA.
“I feel like right now, we are better off than we finished the season last year,” he said. “Last year, about this time if you asked me ... I probably couldn’t tell you who half our starters were because no one really stood out, and nobody really was fitting into the mold.”
This offseason, Kwisz said he’s seen 30 or more kids at every conditioning session, a large increase from what he had seen in the past. He entered the Jets into a 7-on-7 tournament at Pendleton Heights, and they were able to hold their own against larger schools with more developed programs.
Kwisz said he hopes running the football will again be a staple of the APA offense this season. Last year, the program had its first 1,000-yard rusher in Tony Gillespie, and Kwisz said that he looks for De’Andre Patterson to fill Gillespie’s shoes.
With a consistent ground game, the Anderson Prep coach said he thinks his team can better take control of games and not have to rely on single game-changing plays to produce wins.
“We want to be in control of the game and stay in control of the game,” Kwisz said. “We want to put our team in a position where we dictate what a defense does and with our defense, dictate what an offense does.
“This group, in my opinion, has unlimited potential.”
Unfortunately for Kwisz and his players, they can’t test that potential in the IHSAA Class A state tournament for another two seasons. After being on probationary terms in regards to postseason play after starting the program, Kwisz and his staff had issues with paperwork that set the team back another two years before they could compete in sectionals.
But Kwisz said that he and his players try to take the high road with the issue and set team-specific goals that make putting forth effort in practice and competing in games just as meaningful.
“It would be nice to be in the sectional tournament, but the reality of that is after the first week of sectionals, half the teams in the state aren’t playing that Friday anyways,” Kwisz said.
Some of the team goals Kwisz and his staff have instituted for this season include producing two 1,000-yard rushers, finishing the season above .500 and nominating a player on both sides of the ball for the All-State team.
Rather than having his players solely focused on the outcome of a game or two at the end of the season, Kwisz said he thinks having this mindset will keep his players better focused for the duration of the season.
“We’ve never taken the approach of crying over spilled milk and worrying about what we don’t have,” he said. “There’s plenty to play for other than sectionals.”