LATHROP — First-year Lathrop High head football coach Steven Wichman will worry about the wins later.
His first order of business was connecting with the community.
On Friday, he conducted the final session of the three-day Lathrop Spartans Youth Football Camp at Bennie Gatto Field. It was a chance for his coaching staff and players to mingle with the city’s youth.
“This is an opportunity for our players to give back to the youth of this community,” Wichman said. “They’re realizing that the youth are looking up to them. I remember how exciting it was to be around high school players during camps like this in Tracy. To be instructed by those guys during the summer and then to go watch them play on Friday nights in the fall was something special. We’re trying to create that over here.”
It was the first youth football camp put on by the high school. Jaime Hernandez, founder and president of the 10-year-old Lathrop Jr. Spartans (formerly the Lathrop Titans), said it’s a good first step by the new coaching staff.
In recent years, many of his players have gone on to rival Manteca Unified schools or parochial institutions out in Stockton. Lathrop High’s varsity program, in the meantime, struggled to gain early momentum since its first varsity season in 2009. The Spartans went 4-35 in their first four seasons.
“Something like this hasn’t been done in the past, and with the new coaching staff I’m excited,” Hernandez said. “We share a lot of the same philosophies, and you can see how coach Wichman and his staff are very motivating to these kids.
“With what they are bringing, I think we’ll see less kids going to other schools. This is where they belong. Friday Night Lights, here we come. This is what our objective was when the high school first opened, was for this to be a football town. We’re on the door knocking.”
The non-contact camp focused on different skill sets each day. On Wednesday the emphasis was on offensive techniques, then on Thursday it shifted to defenses. Friday, the kids put it all together and played scrimmages. There was also time devoted to punting and kicking.
“I tried to throw in special teams in there every day because this is one thing growing up that we never really focused on,” Wichman said. “It was always either offense or defense, but special teams is such a huge part of the game.
“I hope to inspire these kids to want to go out and be the punter and field goal kicker. You never know, you could be really good at it make a future for yourself on that one skill.”
Ultimately, he wants the community to embrace its only high school and the football team.
“We’ve got this beautiful high school in this wonderful community,” he said. “We’re just trying to give everything we have to our community and we want to show them that we’re out here. We have enthusiastic coaches and players working hard for them.”