If it was still playing eight-man football, Omaha Brownell-Talbot might not be enjoying what already is a special season for the Raiders.
They are 5-0, assured of the school's first winning season and playoff berth in 15 years. Their goals of a district championship and an 8-0 regular season are still out there.
“We have this senior class who came in as freshmen,'' senior co-captain Will Haskell said. “It was a good group and we all had a vision coming in to work to where we'd have a good team by when we were older.”
Haskell was entering eighth grade when Mike Mancuso became the Raiders' coach. The former All-Metro quarterback at Omaha Creighton Prep said he had a five-year plan to elevate the football program, and Brownell-Talbot already had taken an essential step by committing to 11-man football.
“This is a K-12 school and once the boys were done with eighth grade, they wanted to play real football and we were losing kids to Metro schools playing 11-man,'' Mancuso said. “The idea was if we can keep our own kids here, we should be OK.
“This is the first group of seniors we got to stay and we're doing all right.''
The turnaround took time. Brownell-Talbot was 1-7 two years ago and 3-5 last year.
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“We have five senior linemen and four have been starting since sophomore year,'' said Haskell, the fourth from his family to attend the school. “My sophomore year we pretty much got beaten down, but only three seniors were on the team. We took our beatings, but it's paying off in the long run.”
Mancuso said he entered this season believing he had a good squad because of 16 returning starters. Depth would be a concern because of numbers, with many of the backups from the freshman and sophomore classes.
Brownell-Talbot's leading rusher is Arlie Myers, a 5-foot-7 senior who's only 138 pounds. He's averaging 24 carries and 157 yards a game, scoring 10 times, while running behind 200-pound junior fullback Jonathan Vrana and the offensive line that includes seniors Jack Smith, Tripp Skutt, Austin Kent, David Karimi, Will Gustafson and Nate Cheney.
“Arlie's a pretty tough kid,'' Haskell said. “He's not afraid to lower the shoulder and run through people.”
The Raiders' mental toughness also has improved.
“The kids have had a great work ethic over the past five years as we've been developing a culture here,'' Mancuso said. “It used to be that everybody was OK if we just played hard and gave it a good try. That will to win wasn't always there.”
The next two games for the Raiders are on the road, Friday at Palmyra (3-2) and Oct. 18 at Elmwood-Murdock (4-1). They return home for an Oct. 24 game against Conestoga.
After playing one night game under temporary lighting last season, the school has installed permanent lights.
“We're undefeated under the lights at Brownell-Talbot,'' Haskell said. “That's one stat for you. We've never lost a home night game.
“We like it. More people get to come. They don't have to get off work early and get through traffic.”