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A leg up on the competition

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The incorrect copy of this story was published in the Northwest Passage on March 9, 2012. Here is the correct story.

At 6 a.m. on a cool summer morning, junior Lucas Karlin pulls into the parking lot. He makes his way down to the dewy football field and begins to stretch, focusing mainly on his right arm. At the same time, junior Matt Peterson is arriving at the baseball field, smelling the fresh-cut outfield grass. Peterson stretches his right arm as well, but the athletes prepare to throw two different objects as they wait for the professional athletes who they train with to arrive.

Most high school athletes train in the offseason for their sport, but only a few student athletes take the extra step to train with professional and collegiate athletes. This handful of athletes has been able to get a leg up on the competition by learning from people who have played the sport professionally. Peterson and Karlin trained with high-level athletes and were able to take what they learned improve their game.

Lucas Karlin

Karlin trains with Alex Carder, former NW and current Western Michigan quarterback. Coming out of high school, Carder was ranked No. 12 overall in Kansas by and was named an All-Sunflower League quarterback for three straight seasons. An athlete with Carder’s skill set has an intricate knowledge of the game, which is the reason Karlin chose to work with him.

“Alex is experienced enough to know what works and what doesn’t. He is extremely intelligent and has taught me a lot,” Karlin said.

Karlin has been a quarterback for seven years and is ready to step into the spotlight as the starting quarterback of next year’s varsity football team. One of his goals for the offseason is to focus on his weaknesses.

“ knows exactly what you need to work on and will coach you to get better at it,” Karlin said.

Both Carder and Karlin previously trained with the same throwing coach, Skip Stitzell, who has trained 25 NCAA Division I quarterbacks, to perfect their form. The duo trains regularly during the summer and works on specific skills that apply directly to Karlin’s position.

“We always start with footwork, then a three-step drop, and end with some sprint-outs,” Karlin said.

As a quarterback, footwork is key, which is why Karlin focuses on this. Practicing sprint-outs gets Karlin ready for the possibility of being forced out of the pocket, or the area the quarterback stays in, to throw the ball.

Realizing that being passionate about your sport is not all that it takes to excel, Karlin trains hard year-round, even when Carder isn’t around. He stays in shape by participating in other sports, including basketball and track, and still does weight training. Carder’s main focus is to improve Karlin’s technique as a quarterback, but it is Karlin’s job to improve as an athlete.

“I think the most important thing is to lift weights. No matter who you train with, you’re still going to have to be getting stronger and improving as an athlete,” Karlin said.

Teammates of Karlin’s often help when he needs somebody to practice with.

“We always have a good group of guys who will come out to catch and run routes, which really helps me out when I’m working on a specific thing is trying to teach me,” Karlin said.

Not all athletes go the extra step to seek help from a professional, or in Karlin’s case, a collegiate athlete. This type of training not only pushes him farther, but improves his skill level immensely.

Matt Peterson

Peterson has been playing baseball since he was 3 years old, when he first signed up for tee-ball. Peterson has continued to play every year, with hopes of making varsity this year. Nate Tenbrink, a minor league baseball player in the Seattle Mariners’ farm system, has helped Peterson improve his game.

Tenbrink, who is from Olathe, took a job coaching the Midwest Blacksox, a new 18-and-under traveling team, which is full of players from Johnson County. Peterson and two other athletes, senior Austin Howard and freshman Brad Foster, joined the team and spent the summer playing under the tutelage of Tenbrink. Tenbrink, who is only 23 years old, could be called up this season to play for the Major Leagues, which is a possibility that influences the way he coaches.

“You just know that whatever they did worked, and that they made it somewhere, so you know whatever they are telling you is serious and you’re going to get results,” Peterson said.

Being able to play for a coach who is training professionally has meant that Tenbrink’s experience allows the training to more closely resemble that of a professional baseball team.

“We used the exact same drills and workouts that the Seattle Mariners use. It is really exciting,” Peterson said.

Learning these drills has inspired Peterson to share what he has learned from Tenbrink with the rest of the team. He does this by doing the warm-ups and drills he was taught by his summer coach, in front of his NW teammates.

Baseball is not only about physicality. Tenbrink has taught Peterson a lot about the mental aspect of the game, because Tenbrink understands the mental pressures that come with the game.

“He’s a great guy and teaches you the mental aspect, not just conditioning and drills.” Peterson said. “He has taught us a good mental approach at the plate and how you want to carry yourself on and off the field.”

Tenbrink also worked with the players to get their names out for college scouts to see.

“He recommends making a highlight video and just sending them out to college coaches. He’s got a lot of knowledge that he is willing to share,” Peterson said.

Peterson, who hopes to play in college, listens carefully to Tenbrink.

“Obviously, if I could, I want to play pro baseball. I mean I love it, but I am definitely going to play in college no matter where I go,” Peterson said.

Right now, Peterson has taken all the advice he has learned from his summer ball coach, and is using it now. He hopes to learn even more, as he plans to continue to play for Tenbrink. The Blacksox are going to be a fall team, as well as a summer one, so Peterson will gladly play for them as much as he can.

The results

Both Karlin and Peterson are examples of what other students have the potential to do. If more athletes take the initiative and train with professional athletes who have a lot of experience, then their athletics can be improved as a whole. Both Karlin and Peterson would agree that their game has been improved because of the person they worked with.

“ has given me a better approach to the plate, which has really helped me improve my hitting,” Peterson said.

“Training with really helps my timing,” Karlin said, “which will help once we finally get to put the pads on.”

By Brady Klein and Davis Millard

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A leg up on the competition