New season, new coach, new attitude.
It’s certainly a season of change at Oswego East as Tyson LeBlanc takes over the Wolves’ program and tries to deliver the first winning season in the school’s eight-year history. LeBlanc, who coached Curie High School in Chicago to five straight trips to the IHSA playoffs, replaces Mark Green — the only coach the program has ever had and who directed the team to a 2-7 record last season.
LeBlanc feels like the players and the structure is there to compete, but he wants to see more energy and more intensity on the field this year. He doesn’t feel that was lacking last year, but needs to be cranked up a little more.
Practices are done at a quick pace from play to play and drill to drill, and LeBlanc ratchets up that intensity in the second half of practice to emulate what he wants to see in games.
“(It’s about) playing your hardest for four quarters and nine games,” LeBlanc said. “It’s not that they didn’t do that last year but we have to pick it up a notch.
“It’s no secret that’s what it takes to win in football. You are trying to create some physical toughness and mental toughness with the kids while being fundamentally sound.”
The Wolves will field a young team this year, with just three seniors starting on defense and only 18 total seniors on the 48-player roster. The quarterback duties will be handled by sophomore Tyler Kennedy (5-10, 160), who switches over from receiver to run LeBlanc’s spread offense.
Still, there will be plenty of experience in the backfield as senior Chris Cooper (5-8, 186) returns after rushing for over 1,000 yards a year ago. LeBlanc calls Cooper “the most complete back I’ve ever coached” and expects him to get a lot of touches both running and catching the football.
Senior wide receiver Scooter Smith (6-3, 190) provides a big target on the outside, while Tony Pendleton (6-3, 290) starts his third season on the offensive line.
The Wolves should be able to score offensively, and because the spread can lead to short possessions, keep the ball moving down the field and keep the defense fresh on the sideline as much as possible.
East will employ a 4-2-5 scheme on defense, which is expected to be led by linebacker and two-year starter Gunnar Mlsna (5-10, 190) and defensive back Nolan Kopplin (5-7, 164).
LeBlanc, who went 33-27 at Curie and also won the Prep Bowl title in 2010, takes over a program that has won 14 varsity games in its history and never more than three games in a season. While he acknowledges that it’s always easier to walk into a situation with a little more tradition, the reason he took the job was to help be a part of building that tradition instead.
“Quite frankly that is why I came here,” he said. “I wanted the challenge. It’s not just the guys on the team, it’s the administrators, the teachers, the parents at home. The special part of Oswego community is that is there. It is up to us to find our niche and up to me as a coach to find the right path.”
The Wolves open their season on the road against Rich South at 7 p.m. Friday.