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SPRING HILL — The life of a defensive end is sometimes thankless.
And to be a good one, there is a great deal of hard work and determination that goes into reaching that upper echelon. Lou Wendelstedt found that out this season, but he also discovered that if you get there, the price paid is well worth it.
With Springstead one game from the Class 4A region finals, Wendelstedt’s senior season has surpassed all of his expectations.
Born in New Jersey, he lived in Alabama until he was 12. He played some football at Powell Middle School in Brooksville, but never really felt a passion for the sport until coming to Springstead under the tutelage of the program’s longtime coach, Bill Vonada.
“We had some success when I was a sophomore here,” Wendelstedt said, “but there’s something special about this group of guys.”
As a junior, the 6-foot-3, 170-pound lineman was steady but not spectacular. He knew he had to improve if he was going to become one of the leaders of the defense in his final season.
“Players really need to evolve from a junior to a senior and change their mindset,” defensive coordinator Mike Garofano said. “It was important for (Lou) to have a good offseason with both his running and conditioning.”
Wendelstedt made that a priority and the results were obvious from the start. His speed and technique improved as a pass-rusher as he became a handful for opposing offensive tackles.
Using a variety of different moves, he recorded three sacks in a game against River Ridge in October. He also blocked a punt in the win over Central that helped clinch Springstead’s berth in the postseason.
While Wendelstedt has recorded 10 sacks and 56 tackles over the course of the campaign, much of what the budding star contributes can’t be measured on the stat sheet.
Springstead’s opponent Friday night is district foe Gainesville (9-2). When the teams met earlier this season, the Hurricanes came into the contest averaging over 35 points per game. Thanks in large part to the pressure Wendelstedt provided on quarterback Ryan McGriff, Gainesville was held to only 17.
This time around, just holding them down won’t be good enough for the Eagles (6-5). Wendelstedt and company want the victory.
“It’s going to come down to no mistakes,” Wendelstedt said. “Everybody has to know what they’re doing.”
Wendelstedt prepares and prepares until he is ready for anything. It is just the type of work ethic Vonada hopes will get him and his players past Friday night.
“I think most people have a passion in them for something, but they have to be in the right environment to succeed,” Vonada said. “We have a staff that is serious about football and even more serious about producing great people.”
“Winning is just a by-product of that.”