We continue with our Topeka 7 football previews for 2018. We break down the Highland Park Scots and the efforts first-year head coach Mike Foristiere is putting into rebuilding this program. To catch up on the other Topeka 7 previews, find the links below.
Credit: Kevin Haskin, who worked for the Topeka Capital-Journal for 33 years, wrote an article last November regarding the state of the Highland Park football program. The link to that in is at bottom as well.
Nobody likes to lose. Nobody especially likes to lose 34-straight games.
The current members of this year’s Highland Park Scots were not born the last time the school had a winning record in 1995. The seniors on this team have not won a game donning the Scots green uniforms.
Highland Park – both the school and the community – hungers for winning football. The people in that community want to see the kids succeed on the gridiron. The school wants to take pride in their football accomplishments.
“When I came here, I looked at Highland Park as the red-headed stepchild,” Foristiere said. “I want to change that perception.”
Foristiere, who grew up in Fresno, California, loves to rebuild, to invest, and to grow football programs. He believes this is his calling.
“God kind of brought me here,” Foristiere said. “My whole life is about making changes with young people. I’ve invested my whole life into it. Even though I’m at a certain age that people say is old and you’re ready to retire, I’m not ready to do that and I’m ready to keep changing lives. That’s what God put me on this Earth for and that’s why I’m here.”
Although Highland Park hasn’t won recently in football, Foristiere embraces the challenge of building a culture of success, and it starts with the 2018 Scots.
“It doesn’t happen overnight, you just slowly take care of business,” Foristiere said.
For Highland Park, rebuilding the program starts by getting kids to take interest in football. Last year, 44 players came out for football, a low number in Kansas 5A football. That number dwindled quickly. By the end of the season, the Scots had 20 players on the roster. According to coach Foristiere, 40 students have come out for the team this year.
The first-year Scots coach has been preaching commitment and responsibility as he tries to change the culture of the football team.
“It’s the hardest thing to change the culture that has seen one thing over and over and is acceptable and has been condoned,” Foristiere said. “The rebuild starts between the ears. It’s all about the mind.”
The staff is establishing a more physical offense, one based on power running and sound blocking. Foristiere, a former offensive guard for the Oregon Ducks, wants his team to win the battle of the trenches.
“You can’t be soft in your offensive schemes, your defensive schemes and expect to play in a tough conference, or in a tough game,” the former Oregon Duck said.
Stephen Rodriguez, Chance Gragg, Morgan Dean, and Trenton Long have stood out so far in the offensive line, according to coach. Their development will be the key for the Scots offense. Foristiere said they have bought in to what he wants from them.
“I call my lineman skill positions,” Foristiere said.
Coach Foristiere has also emphasized the importance of pass protection. After watching tape, Foristiere was not pleased with how many sacks junior quarterback JaShawn Spicer took in his first year as the Scots quarterback.
“Last year he was just [wearing] a bullseye on his back, just getting drilled,” he said.
Spicer started in four games last year, completing 44 percent of his passes and throwing one touchdown and seven interceptions. Foristiere said he has worked with Spicer on getting rid of the ball quicker to avoid the hits and making smarter decisions with the football.
Spicer will take over for All-City selection Will White, who stepped in at quarterback midway through the season. White accounted for 1064 total yards passing, rushing and receiving. He also scored 10 touchdowns.
Despite losing White, Foristiere remains confident the team can come together as a unit and produce.
“You can’t always replace great athletes,” Foristiere said. “But…skilled players will beat talented players any day of the week. So, you go back to fundamentals, blocking and tackling, make sure you function as a team, do your job and only do that.”
The Scots must replace Angelo Plakio in the backfield as well. Plakio received All-Centennial League honors as a linebacker. Malaki Stepp, a 5’11″ senior, looks to get the bulk of the carries for the team this season. Keegan Miller-Paige will also receive touches in the backfield.
At receiver, Michael Langley and Tre Prosper look to step up for the Scots. Spicer, Stepp, Prosper, Langley, Miller-Paige, and the offensive line look to improve an offense that averaged 8.2 points per game and got shut out three times last season.
Defensively, the Scots gave up 52.7 points per game in 2017, including four games where the opposing team scored 55 points or more. According to Foristiere, the same message on offense applies on defense: become tougher, win the battle up front, and play fundamental football.
“We’ve got to change that being the free space on the bingo card,” he said.
This season, Highland Park will play its home games at Hummer Sports Park, splitting time with the other USD 501 schools: Topeka High and Topeka West. The Scots will face Seaman at home on August 31 to kickoff the season.
The Scots will play KC Sumner Academy for a non-conference game September 7. That game will be played at KC Wyandotte’s home field.
This is a tough project, Foristiere knows it. The west coast kid said when he moved to Topeka over the summer people would laugh at him when he told them his job. Everyone is expecting a loser from Highland Park, but Foristiere and the kids expect more from themselves. They are ready to lay the foundation for the future of the Highland Park Scots program. It starts by changing the culture, then trying to snap that 34-game losing streak.
“They want to win, they just don’t know how to get there. That’s the whole process. They don’t know how to get through the steps, the process, the work ethic, what it takes. So, you have to go back, break it all down one step at a time.”
All stats from the Topeka Capital-Journal
Click here for the article from Kevin Haskin