Bob Lutz: Struggling teams’ standouts keep plugging

Published Oct. 11 at 8:11 p.m. | Last updated Nov. 8 at 1:38 p.m.

Listen to the way football coach Kevin Steiner describes one of his players, linebacker Kyle Wilson.

“One of the most explosive players I’ve coached,” Steiner said. “When he goes and hits somebody, he has an explosion that not many players bring.’’

Yet who knows Kyle Wilson? Anyone? If he played for Bishop Carroll or Heights or another good team, Wilson would be talked about. But he plays for South, which played Southeast in search of its first win Friday.

The 5-foot-10, 220-pound Wilson shows up for every practice. Every game. He puts in the work in the weight room. He yearns to win. But the Titans rarely do.

“I’m trying to get to a college to play football,’’ Wilson said. “As I play and we continue to lose games, I start thinking nobody is going to look at me because we’re a losing team.’’

Even losing teams have quality players, and Wilson is proof.

So is East senior running back/linebacker Deonta Thomas, who doesn’t take the losses well. The Blue Aces have been hit hard by injuries and haven’t figured out a way to get many victories.

“I don’t like it and I’ve always been that way,” Thomas said. “My whole life, ever since I started playing football in kindergarten, I’ve hated losing more than I love winning.”

Thomas is a three-year starter for East and a player his coach, Brian Byers, is trying to build a program for. But it’s tough when starters go down with injuries and a lack of players makes finding suitable replacements hard.

“You just have to keep talking to players like Deonta and tell them to continue to work hard,” Byers said. “Hopefully, then, something happens that is good. He’s got a natural feel for the game. Great intensity and great passion for football. And he’s extremely upset when we don’t win. You kind of have to reel him back in because he’s very, very intense. He’s the one kid on our team that when he speaks, our other players listen.”

Goddard senior tight end Austin Chippeaux is another good player on a struggling team. The Lions were 1-4 before Friday’s game against Andover.

“I think he would be recruited more if we had a better record,” Goddard assistant coach Tom Beeson said. “He’s a really awesome tight end.”

Chippeaux used to be most devoted to basketball. Makes sense because he’s an athletic 6-foot-6.

But he’s been more and more drawn to football and now says it’s his favorite.

“I feel like I could split out as a receiver, too, but I’m pretty much our tallest guy and the coaches like me at tight end,” Chippeaux said. “And I actually do like blocking and having the chance to go out for passes and making some big plays.”

Chippeaux said he’s heard from small colleges and junior colleges, but his coach thinks he is capable of more. It’s a matter, though, of being seen.

“Austin kind of gives you that basketball player/tight end thing, kind of like a Tony Gonzalez guy,” Beeson said. “He’s a big guy who started out as a basketball kid first and foremost. But he’s taken to the physicality of football better than a lot of basketball kids do. He’s become a really physical tight end who doesn’t do a bad job with his hand in the ground. And he has fantastic hands and good speed. And on top of all of that, Austin is a really good kid who works his tail off.”

Steiner, South’s second-year coach, is trying to turn around years of losing. He’s had good players, Wilson being the latest example. Just not enough of them.

“A guy like Kyle wants that scholarship to further his playing, so this has been frustrating for him,” Steiner said. “But our coaches talk to him about just going out and making plays. You have an audition with every game we play and the coaches who are watching know if you’re doing the fundamental things sound and correct. Your ability will take care of the rest.’’

Wilson believes his coaches, but it doesn’t make the losses easier.

“Football is something I love, I love it a lot,’’ he said. “I’ve been playing since before I started school and I just like being on a team and working together. Most of the guys on this team at South grew up together and we’ve been playing with each other since we were freshmen. We’re still working on it, trying to see if we can find something that works better.’’

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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