The weight room at Johnson Creek High School did not collect much dust this summer.
In the two years since the $18.9-million facility was built, student athletes hadn’t really taken full advantage of the fitness center.
But last fall, the district hired a new physical education teacher, Tyler Huber, who helped to create a new culture that sparked the Bluejays’ baseball team to a WIAA Division 4 state tournament appearance last spring. The enthusiasm has bled over into the football program.
“In years past, we were lucky to get five or six kids in there consistently,” Creek football coach Tim Wagner said. “This summer, we had 30-plus kids.”
Lifting weights at 6:30 a.m. became a necessary step toward individual growth, rather than an optional chore that players avoided.
No one embraced the attitude change more than senior Lucas Sullivan, a first-team all-conference defensive end and punter in 2017 who will also play tight end this season.
He was one of the first players who bought in to the new strength program.
“Last year, I was kind of weak,” Sullivan said. “I wanted to get bigger. I worked a lot during the offseason, and my numbers went up about 30-40 pounds for each lift.”
More strength will help the 6-foot, 3-inch senior take better advantage of his natural size. What’s more, his summer in the gym was vital for his conditioning.
Sullivan used to be able to rest on the sideline when the offense took the field. Now that he’s also the Bluejays’ top tight end too, the number of plays he’ll watch from the sideline will be few and far between.
“He wants to catch the ball, and when he gets those opportunities, he will,” senior split end and linebacker Micah Garvey said. “But I think blocking will be the toughest thing.”
The added responsibility for Sullivan required more than just physical development. Wagner said he has matured significantly as a person over the last few years, and his coaches have watched him grow into a leadership role.
“Coming in bigger and stronger this year, his attitude also changed because he has a lot more confidence in himself.” Wagner said. “That’s why he’s one of our captains this year, because of the things he’s done in the offseason.”
Sullivan’s offseason from football included trips to the state tournament in both wrestling and baseball last year, but his ultimate goal is to continue his career on the gridiron at the collegiate level.
He has visits lined up with Minnesota State-Moorhead and UW-River Falls, both of which are interested in him at defensive end.
Now stronger, faster and more mature, he’s ready to take his game and his team to the next level in 2018.
“He’s a great human being and he has a good heart.” Wagner said. “When you can graduate a kid where all the pieces fit into the puzzle, that’s what makes coaching fun for me, and I’m already seeing that with Lucas.”