Undefeated and No. 2-ranked Mendon (Division 8) hosts White Pigeon Friday to determine the final St. Joseph Valley League championship. The Chiefs are 4-2, riding a two-game winning streak. JoeInsider.com caught up with Mendon head coach John Schwartz for a lengthy Q&A earlier this week:
What has this week’s practices been like going into what will be a historic final SJV game?
“We talk about it. This could be the last SJV game and we’d like to go out a winner. It’s important to our kids. I think they’ll pick it up and play hard. Practice is getting a little boring to them. I must be getting old. We do the same thing every week. These kids could go from station to station without a coach even being there. That’s the thing we need to work on is keeping our practice upbeat. With the schedule we’ve had so far, sometimes that’s hard to do.
“In the Centreville game I assumed we were getting better. But you go back and look at [the film] and the kids were really lazy on defense, and even with their blocking. Their techniques got real sloppy as the game went on. That doesn’t make you better. Those are things we have to battle with because we’re going to see a good team, just like we are this week, and we can’t do those things that we did as the game went on with Centreville.
“You can always get better. You’ve got to be bored seven times on one drill to really be good at it. They are people and most of all they’re kids. Sometimes they don’t understand why they have to keep doing it so well every time you do it. Well, because it has to be second nature. If you want to play fast, that’s the way you do it.
“I’m sure all coaches have that problem. If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. That’s the thing we preach.
What is different about this White Pigeon team and how is it better than in previous seasons?
“They are big up front. I think the last two weeks they’ve played their best football. Their offense has kind of changed from early in the season and they’re running more of a read type offense now. The quarterback is very involved in the offense and it requires the defense to be very disciplined in run alleys and responsibilities. It’s something we’ve worked on this week. It’s good for our kids to see something like this. Hopefully we can be disciplined enough to be there for cutbacks and things they like to do with it. I think the last two weeks they’ve just been getting a lot better.
“You have to play it straight [defensively against two quarterbacks]; it doesn’t matter which kid is quarterbacking. We don’t even know if the Eger kid is going to play. I don’t think he played last week. With Hochstetler they have kind of gone to this veer type offense — an inverted bone, we call it, or kind of like a pistol. We expect them to still spread it out and throw the ball, but I don’t think that’s what they want to do.
“I think Krajniak is probably their best running back, along with the quarterback. Krajniak is the kid that will carry the mail most of the time and he’s the one you have to keep an eye on. The [Chas] Rathburn kid plays right there in the middle [linebacker] and he’s a kid that you’ve got to find on the offensive line and make sure we get a body on him.”
You haven’t had put your kickoff and punt coverage teams out there much this year, so which special teams players have stood out for you this season?
“We work hard at special teams and other teams know that, which forced other teams do things they don’t want to do. We take a lot of pride in our special teams. They’ve done a good job. People are real concerned kicking off and punting to us. I’d say it’s a team effort. But probably our long snapper Derek Zagon has done a nice job all year long. We feel he can go [to college] and snap somewhere if he wants to do that after high school.
“A lot of people overlook that until you don’t have one. We haven’t punted that much, so Riley hasn’t been able to punt that much, but he’s a consistent kicker for us. He does all our kicking — kickoff, punt, field goals and extra point.”