Maintaining the standards

For the past 13 years, Lance Gunkel has been causing headaches for opposing offenses in his role as defensive coordinator for the Platte Canyon High School football program. With the recent retirement of longtime head coach Mike Schmidt, Gunkel looks forward to building upon the lofty standards established by his predecessor. (Photo by Kelly Kirkpatrick/The Flume)

A popular saying in coaching circles is that winning begets winning. The Platte Canyon High School football program seems to support that theory, and that trend is likely to continue despite a recent coaching change.

New head coach Lance Gunkel, who has spent 13 years serving as the defensive coordinator for previous head coach Mike Schmidt, plans to stick with winning formulas as he looks ahead to the 2019 season.

Gunkel was recently hired as head coach when Schmidt, who also serves as district superintendent and principal for PCSD, stepped down after a long and immensely successful career as the Huskies’ skipper.

“Mike was hands off and let me learn on the job when I came here,” Gunkel recalled. “He delegated it to me and let me have it.”

When asked what changes he plans to make in his first year as Huskies’ head coach, Gunkel said, “very few.”

“It always depends on the kids you have, but I don’t plan to change much at all about how we do things,” Gunkel said. “We will run the ball often and continue to play an aggressive brand of defense just as we have in the past.”

The Huskies earned playoff berths in 11 of the 13 years Gunkel has spent alongside Schmidt. Last season, the Huskies utilized an exceptional offensive line and a bevy of ball carriers to grind out an average of more than 200 yards per game on the ground.

Combined with Gunkel’s versatile, pressing style of defense, the Huskies recorded another winning season, and another playoff appearance, just as they have done so consistently in recent years.

Like most successful coaches, Gunkel can discuss tactical strategies and all facets of Xs and Os with ease. But when asked to describe the key ingredients required for success on the gridiron, he dwells on the intangible qualities of players such as commitment, preparation and a team-first mentality.

“The game is still about brotherhood, supporting and playing for each other, and bonding as a team,” Gunkel said. “High school football helps the kids learn more about themselves, as well as their teammates, and teaches them to work as individuals to achieve common goals for the sake of the team. When all those things come together, winning is usually the end result.”

The Huskies allowed opponents an average of just 16 points per game in 2019 while going undefeated in conference play. Every other team in the Foothills Conference allowed more than 20 points per contest.

“We are going to remain an aggressive defense, sometimes playing zone and other times maybe man coverage,” Gunkel said. “Sometimes we will load the box, depending upon the situation and the personnel we have. On offense, we will stay with our double-wing running game.”

Gunkel will continue to call plays on the defensive side of the ball, as well as taking on the responsibility of calling offensive plays. Gunkel will also enjoy the advantage of having an old friend and an experienced set of eyes doing his spotting from the press box.

“Mike will still be in the press box for us, so that will be extremely helpful,” Gunkel said with a grin.

Gunkel has a pretty experienced set of eyes himself. He played college football at University of Mary, in Bismarck, ND. His coaching experiences also include 10 years working his way up the ranks at Green Mountain High School before coming to Platte Canyon.

He began as a running backs coach there before eventually becoming the defensive coordinator and spending three years in that capacity.

Gunkel is also more than willing to put in the time required to understand all he can about upcoming opponents. By the time the Huskies hit the field next fall for the first game in the “Gunkel Era,” a good bet is that he will know the opponent by heart and will have shared what he has learned with all necessary parties.

“I watch a lot of film,” Gunkel said. “I spend a lot of late night and early morning hours watching opponents and studying their tendencies. Maybe we are actually prepared more than we need to be sometimes,” he added with a chuckle.

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