When Tim Williams became head football coach at Waverly in 2014, he chose the current senior class, when they were eighth-graders, as the group he would use as the foundation for the program he wanted to build.
Williams used the weight room as the construction area, and he found plenty of athletes willing to follow the blueprint. In the process, they found that self-improvement on an individual basis added up to a better team on the field and more chemistry between teammates.
In his first season as coach, “I went to the middle school and set up lunch with seven- and eighth-graders to talk about a lifting program,” said Williams, whose seventh-ranked Vikings (9-2) host No. 1 Omaha Skutt at 7 p.m. Friday in the semifinals of the Class B playoffs.
“The eighth-grade group that are seniors now were eager and ready to go,” Williams said. “When I set something up for those kids in January, I didn’t know how many would be interested, and I think close to 60 or 70 kids from all sports showed up that first day.”
The results were almost immediate under strength coach Anthony Harms. Senior standout offensive lineman/linebacker Logan Schuelke said the Waverly middle school teams his seventh- and eighth-grade years “had some success, but nothing like the level of success we’re having now.
“We were outsized and overmatched by the bigger schools like Gretna and Elkhorn,” he added. “Elkhorn beat us up pretty good our eighth-grade year, but we got in the weight room (during the offseason), came back our freshman year just bullied them on the offensive line and ran the ball down their throats.
“It showed us how much the weight room can help you. We haven’t slowed down a bit. We’ve been in there every day since then.”
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Schuelke has seen the weight room benefits on the wrestling mat as well. As a freshman wrestling at 182 pounds, “I won one match,” he said.
“That was hard, but I got in the weight room and kept working. Last year I won over 30 matches and qualified for state (at 220 pounds),” Schuelke added.
It’s been a similar path in football. Waverly went 2-7 two years ago when many of this year’s seniors were seeing extensive playing time as sophomores. Last season as juniors, Waverly was 6-4 and a playoff qualifier.
Rhett Jordon credits the weight room for setting him on the path to become one of the top all-around quarterbacks in Class B. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Jordon rushed for 297 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 117 and another score in the Vikings’ 36-30 win at No. 3 McCook in last Friday’s quarterfinals.
Jordon and senior teammate, running back Kaleb Canoyer, have both eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark rushing this season. Jordon has 1,413 yards and 17 TDs on the ground, while the 5-foot-3, 165-pound Canoyer is at 1,258 and 15 scores.
“Back in seventh and eighth grade, I didn’t even get on the field much. I wasn’t that good of an athlete back then,” Jordon said. “The lifting I did leading into my freshman year made me more athletic and I could outrun kids that previously I had not been able to keep up with.
“Being in the weight room these last four years has helped me tremendously with speed agility and strength,” Jordon added.
Williams says Waverly’s defense has been one of the Vikings’ strengths this season, and a pair of seniors, outside linebacker Nolan Brown and cornerback Andrew Moylan, have contributed to that success. Brown, who committed to Nebraska-Omaha for baseball earlier this week, has 45 tackles, while Moylan has 33 stops and two interceptions.
Both transformed themselves in the weight room during their high school career under Harms.
“We knew if we were going to win at the high school level, we were going to have to be bigger and faster than we were,” said the 6-foot, 190-pound Brown. “It put us in the mindset of winning.”
Moylan never played football until his freshman year because he thought he was too small.
“As soon as Coach Williams showed me the weight room, I found out I wasn’t that much weaker than everyone else,” said the 5-9, 170-pound Moylan. “It gave me the confidence to want to play football and then be successful.”