It was “Beach the Vikings” night last Friday at Archie, and the Whirlwinds’ fans came out for a tailgate before the home opener against Midway. They fired up their grills, pitched their tents and in the process amazed football coach Michael Toschi.
“We even had an RV out there,” Toschi said. “I was at the stadium at four o’clock and there were people already there.”
This hasn’t always been the case at Archie, where the football program has been down on its luck for several years. But if the first two weeks of this season are any indication, the 1-1 Whirlwinds’ fortunes may be changing. After opening with a razor-thin 7-6 loss at Crest Ridge, Archie treated its tailgaters to a 37-0 blistering of Midway, a team it hadn’t beaten in six years.
The tailgate, and the growing excitement in the community, are examples in what Toschi calls an entire cultural shift in the football program. It goes beyond the talent on the field, which has improved, and philosophy and strategy, which have also changed. The success, he said, is coming from a top-down attitude change about the program.
“It’s not just on the field, it’s off the field as well,” Toschi said. “Our kids are finally buying into what we’ve been trying to preach to them the last couple of years and we’re starting to see results early on.”
If any program needed a cultural shift, it was Archie. The Whirlwinds haven’t had a winning season since 2011, when they went 9-4 and made a second-straight appearance in the Class 1 state quarterfinals. They only won nine games over the next five seasons, including back-to-back winless seasons in 2013-14. Last year, they managed to win two games.
Toschi wanted to change the culture from one where the Whirlwinds expect to lose to one where they expect to win. He knew to do that would take dedication not only from the players, but from the administration and the rest of the community as well.
But the buy-in had to start with the players, especially the Whirlwinds large senior class. Those 14 seniors, Toschi said, became believers during workouts last summer and have led the way in turning the attitude around.
“Our senior class has been awesome this year,” Toschi said. “When you talk about that cultural shift, it’s a huge thing. The seniors started that and then set the example for the other kids.”
The seniors were in the weight room all summer, Toschi said, and that’s translated into 30 of the 34 players on the roster lifting year-round now. Their buy-in has helped the Whirlwinds make the change from their traditional wing-T offense to a multiple formation look and a return to a 4-4 defense.
Of course, it also helps the Archie has size and speed up front, with an offensive line that has 260-, 310- and 240-pounders. They’re paving the way for quarterback Gage Shaw and running backs Gabe Fisher and Brenden Lindley, who give the Whirlwinds both a punishing short-yardage fullback and a speedy around-the-end ball carrier.
And that defense has yet to give up a point. Crest Ridge got its touchdown on an interception return, and a failed two-point conversion on a fourth-quarter touchdown was the only thing standing between the Whirlwinds and a win.
Against Midway, a state quarterfinalist the last three seasons and longtime Western Missouri Conference power, Archie scored one touchdown in the first quarter and three more in the second and led 30-0 by halftime. Fisher rushed for two of the scores and Lindley and Shaw also had TDs.
Shaw threw a 22-yard TD pass to Conner Shrewsbury after an interception just before halftime, and Lindley started the second half by running the opening kickoff back 80 yards for Archie’s final TD.
“We had some breaks and forced some turnovers early and we got out on them,” Toschi said. “I take my hat off to my kids. My kids played awesome, we had a great game plan going in. We’re building that culture; we’re building that confidence as we go along.”
Toschi knows there are more tests ahead, including tonight’s clash at Drexel, another longtime WEMO rival. Archie’s fans are planning a “white-out,” with everybody showing up dressed in white.
More evidence of a so-far successful culture shift.
“The town’s excited,” Toschi said. “Everybody’s getting involved in it, the community, the school, the kids not on the team … it’s really neat. It’s really neat to see everybody on board and pushing to where we want to be.”