Edinburgh football building momentum on, off field

Edinburgh’s new football scoreboard hasn’t been put in place yet — largely because it’s doubled in size and the posts that supported the previous one weren’t going to be sufficient to hold this one up.

Head coach Tyler DeSpain is hoping that’s a metaphor for the Lancers’ future.

Bigger and better. Outgrowing their past.

The Lancers closed the 2020 season with some momentum, winning their final two regular-season games by a combined 80 points, and their three victories were more than they’d totaled in the previous three seasons.

That momentum was sustained through an offseason that has brought a bigger (17 feet by 24 feet) scoreboard, sharp new home uniforms (black jerseys and black pants) and more players coming out for preseason workouts than any year in recent memory.

DeSpain has about 35 players out so far, and for the first time in his eight years at the school — the last three as a head coach — Edinburgh will be able start all juniors and seniors on both sides of the ball.

Last season, the Lancers had just 17 players in uniform for a midseason game against Milan. This summer, DeSpain has 17 linemen.

That additional depth could make a world of difference in small-school football.

“I’m excited that we’ve got numbers up,” Edinburgh athletic director David Walden said, “because the biggest problem we that get into is our numbers are okay when we start, but then we get people hurt, and then when we get down to the end of the schedule, then we’ve got eight or nine guys that are hurt.

“That’s the biggest thing. If we can keep our numbers where we’ve got kids that can give other kids that can give other kids rest, then we’ll be more successful. Looking back at some of the games last year, we just wore down. We didn’t have much of a line, and we just wore down.”

“The kids are excited,” DeSpain added. “They’ve got it to where a lot of their friends are coming out. We’re not just getting kids; we’re getting the best athletes of each class.”

The excitement stems in part from the team’s improvement late last season. Before being eliminated by Class A state champion Covenant Christian in its sectional opener, Edinburgh had split its last six regular-season games and scored 130 points over its final three.

Most of the skill-position talent from that squad returns — especially on offense, where quarterback Riley Palmeter threw for 2,235 yards and Caleb Dewey caught 65 passes for 1,037 yards. All of those figures led the county.

Additionally, the schedule has been overhauled. The Mid-Indiana Football Conference has been dissolved, and Milan and North Decatur, which had both dominated the Lancers over the past several years, have been dropped in favor of some more compatible opponents. There’s even talk of a seven-win season — something that hasn’t happened at Edinburgh since 1993.

But an equally important factor in the increased buzz, DeSpain says, is continuity. After his two predecessors, Jerry Ball and Jason Burton, coached just two seasons each, the program appears to have someone who’s in for the long haul.

“These kids know that I don’t plan on going anywhere else, that Edinburgh’s kind of my home and that I’m here for the long term unless something drastic happens,” DeSpain said. “That’s the biggest key for these kids, just knowing that someone’s not going to up and leave.”

Local fans and businesses seem to sense it, too. DeSpain estimates that he’s been able to raise about $30,000 in the last two years, with most of that coming in the form of advertising. Fletcher’s and McDonald’s are footing the bill for about 80 percent of the $15,000 scoreboard cost.

Team fundraising money covered the new jerseys this offseason and the purchase of 32 new helmets last year. Edinburgh’s athletic department bought 28 more helmets this year due to increased turnout at the high school and middle school.

“Tyler’s done a good job,” Walden said. “He’s done a good job of getting kids out — and he’s done a good job in getting money, because we’re not Center Grove or Whiteland or all these other schools that get all the money from Ray Skillman. Football’s still a losing venture for us compared to the other schools.”

From a financial standpoint, that may always be the case; such is life when you’re one of the smallest football-playing public schools in the state.

But there’s an increased optimism about the on-field product heading into this fall, and not without good reason. The Lancers will look the part of a winner, and they’re eager to come out and prove that they are one.

“Every single kid here is ready to compete and play some football,” DeSpain said.