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8-man state: Younger Schemm a key for Wallace County

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fullback/linebacker Luke Schemm is the lone sophomore starter for the Wallace County High School football team. Schemm had a solid regular season, including seven tackles apiece against Hoxie and Hanover, the Wildcats' two closest contests, and six versus Weskan. He also ran for 200 yards on six carries against Tribune-Greeley County.

Throughout the first nine weeks, Schemm heard the same mantra from head coach Kevin Ayers, also the team's linebacker coach: Be more physical and get your pads lower.

Schemm has improved in the playoffs and delivered three huge performances. In a 53-6 first-round victory against Thunder Ridge, Schemm had 16 tackles (13 solo). In a 51-6 second-round win versus Dighton, Schemm collected 11 tackles, six solo. Last Saturday, he set a career-high with 17 tackles in a 31-6 victory versus Beloit/St. John's-Tipton.

"In recent games, he has been happier, but there is always room for improvement," Schemm said.

Schemm's playmaking has helped an experienced, senior-laden Wildcat team move to 12-0 and into Saturday's Eight-Man Division II state championship game versus 11-1 Baileyville B&B. Start time is 3:30 p.m. at Newton's Fischer Field.

"It would be a great way to send these seniors out," Schemm said. "I know they have put in a lot of hard work during the summer."

Schemm, the younger brother of starting lineman Clay Schemm, leads the team with 77 tackles, 23 more than any other Wildcat and 15th in Kansas among eight-man sophomores.

"He is an intelligent kid, and there is nothing better than game reps to improve a kid," Ayers said. "Especially at that spot, just an understanding of how people are trying to block you, the reads we are making and those types of things - and he has just excelled."

As a freshman, the 160-pound Luke Schemm had 44 tackles for a 10-1 team. Schemm started some last fall when linebacker Lane Perry moved down to defensive line after some injuries. Perry graduated and Schemm moved into a full-time role for '13.

"The beginning of the year, we knew Luke had a lot more that he could bring to the table, and it just happened that he matured and grew and got game experience," Ayers said.

Offensively, Schemm has rushed 53 times for 486 yards and nine scores after he had just 12 carries for 72 yards as a freshman.

"His maturity in the game," Clay Schemm said of the differences in his brother from 2012 to '13. "Last year, there would be some times when he didn't quite know what to do, or he would hesitate just a little bit, but this year he has just completely stepped it up to a new level. Reading things better, flowing better, being more confident and more physical, just all around."

Schemm has helped Wallace County rush for 188 yards a game. Junior Nate Klinge leads the team with 119 carries for 826 yards and 15 scores, while senior quarterback Kyle Gfeller has 132 carries for 810 yards and 19 TDs, and 641 passing yards with an 11/2 TD/INT ratio.

"Him and I are great friends," Schemm said of Klinge. "I really enjoy lead blocking for him."

Defensively, Schemm has learned from coach Ayers and watching NFL on Sundays and Mondays. Wallace County is well-known for its intelligence and discipline and ranks as eight-man's No. 1 scoring defense with 52 points allowed. Many of the Wildcats started to play football before sixth grade and recall Sharon Springs' last title in 2007.

"Coach Ayers, he teaches the game very well," Schemm said. "There is just a lot of the same reads (in the NFL), the linebackers will read the guards and things like that and then we can watch them to do it, and then we can apply it to ourselves and that's coming from people who have made it to the big leagues."

On the field, Ayers has taught the defenders to read the screws of the opponents' helmet. Whichever way the head goes, that shows where the opponent is trying to block the Wildcats. In 2012, Ayers said the game was still "moving really fast" for Luke Schemm. Now, Schemm, like many of the Wildcats, has seen big improvements. Throughout the playoffs, Ayers has consistently praised Luke Schemm. It was no different for the sophomore after Saturday's win.

"A huge game," Ayers said. "Luke, the physicalness that he played with, not everybody saw the blocks that he was throwing out there and just how physical he was playing at the linebacker spot for a sophomore. I was extremely pleased with how hard he played and how physical he played."