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SPOTLIGHT
Game of the Week: Breakout season for La Crosse sophomores

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Game of the Week: Breakout season for La Crosse sophomores

Published on -11/1/2012, 10:42 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

La CROSSE -- Defensive end/guard Sheldon Schmidt has emerged as one of Kansas' top sophomores for the La Crosse High School football team.

"It's been fun," Schmidt said. "I just try to play the best I can every Friday night, because you don't get that many chances. ... You don't know when the game is going to be taken from you. You've got to give it all you've got every play."

Schmidt has collected 64 tackles, seven sacks, a fumble recovery and a defensive TD, all numbers that rank first or second for the 9-0 Leopards, ranked No. 1 in Class 2-1A in the statewide media poll. La Crosse will play host to Brookville/Ell-Saline (7-2) in the first round of the playoffs Friday.

Schmidt ranks second in the state among sophomores in sacks.

Fourth-year coach Jon Webster hasn't had a sophomore with the all-around package of size, speed and power that Schmidt brings.

"Sheldon has done a tremendous job in the offseason of getting stronger and faster and then taking what is expected of him, not just by the coaching staff, but by the seniors and himself, and everyday getting better," Webster said.

Still, Schmidt still has more to learn, something Webster is aware of.

"At one point, I told our coaches that for a kid who is in the top of the state in tackles and sacks, he gets yelled at more than anybody on the team, and that's because we expect so much out of him," Webster said. "He expects a lot out of himself. He takes coaching and he works to be better every single time he steps on the field and we wouldn't be where we were are without him."

Last fall, La Crosse went 12-1 and advanced to the Class 2-1A state championship game where it lost to Centralia in overtime. Only one sophomore, Marshall Jay, started. Schmidt saw plenty of playing time as the first lineman in when someone was hurt or needed a break.

This season, the Leopards have played multiple sophomores, but the program counted on two -- quarterback Jack Garcia and Schmidt -- to play big roles.

"At first a lot of pressure, then kind of got what the feeling was like in a game," Schmidt said.

Garcia took over for Clayton Basgall, who was expected to be a starter at defensive back and quarterback, but suffered a season-ending knee injury in the summer. Instead, Basgall has served as an inspirational and vocal leader, delivering speeches in the locker room and helping the team stay on task.

"Almost like a coach," senior William Storie said.

Garcia has completed 55 of 92 passes for 1,056 yards and a 15/4 TD/INT ratio. He has picked off two passes and has six pass breakups, second-best on the squad. Garcia especially played well in a key Week 7 victory against Sterling where he threw for a season-high 206 yards and two TDs. Last week, Garcia threw an interception, but Webster said it wasn't the signal caller's fault.

"Jack does have a lot of talent around him, but he has gone out there and made great plays," Webster said. "The last couple of games, he has had great reads. He hasn't forced the ball."

Schmidt has helped a team that has outscored opponents 389-102 and ranks third in scoring offense and sixth in scoring defense in the classification, according to preppowerindex.com.

"He has been putting pressure on the quarterback, so that they have to throw it quicker than they want to, so our DBs make plays off of that, so he has helped a lot," Storie, the team leader with four interceptions, said.

Schmidt has assisted a line that has needed to play a few weeks without veteran senior Matt Wagner, who suffered a high ankle sprain. Wagner will play Friday.

Schmidt often plays against seniors, but Webster has noticed Schmidt keeps his pad level low and being the aggressor, a trait Webster called "a huge advantage."

"What Sheldon does a really good job of is using his length and his arms to get separation and to get offensive linemen off of him," Webster said. "He has got long, long arms and that allows him to get rid of the blockers and find the football."

Schmidt has helped the Leopards overcome a loss of some key defensive players. Dylan Engel led the team with 13 sacks in 2011, while the Leopards picked off a state-record 34 passes and forced 38 turnovers. La Crosse allowed 12.3 points pergame.

This year, the Leopards have 19 sacks, three more than they had all of last season, and 18 turnovers forced. Helped by Schmidt's play up front, the Leopards have permitted just 11.3 points a contest.

"I think my quickness helps a little bit and my strength just adds to the bonus," Schmidt said. "There is always room for improvement."

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