Lance Holupka fondly remembers his playing days.
“My sophomore year we went 12-1 and were the district runner-up; junior year 9-4 and district runner-up; senior year 7-3 and we lost in the first round of the playoffs,” he said, rattling off the records like they were from yesterday — except he was talking about the late 1980s.
That passion will come in handy for the 1990 United High School graduate, and he’ll try to make a few more memories along the way as his alma mater’s newly named head football coach.
“I remember all of that off the top of my head,” Holupka said of his playing days.
Holupka has spent a lot of time since on the sidelines, particularly at United. He has served several stints as an assistant coach there, with a few years at Homer-Center sprinkled in between, and most recently he assisted at the Kiski School last season. Holupka takes over for Greg Mytrysak, who resigned earlier this spring, grabbing the reins of a proud program coming off an 0-10 season.
“It didn’t really take a whole lot to convince me to come back,” Holupka said. “I left thinking I wanted something bigger and better, but there’s no place like home, as they say. I’ve been in this community and this program for so long that it just didn’t feel right not being here.
“You want to see where you’re from be the top dog, so it had kind of been eating at me that we were struggling a little bit. I don’t like seeing that, so I want to try to get this thing going in the right direction.”
United fell off the cycle of success the last two seasons. A 4-5 record in 2011 and last year’s winless campaign followed playoff appearances in the first two of Mytrysak’s four years at the helm.
Holupka was around for those last two playoff appearances, in 2009 and ’10. He is more than familiar with the program, playing for coaches Frank Krevetski and George Busovicki and coaching under Chris Matava. He also knows the kids from serving as an umpire in United’s Little League in addition to his years of work in the football program.
“A lot of these boys have known me for years,” Holupka said. “It’s not something they’re coming into and don’t know anything about.”
Getting enough players, though, is always an issue in small-school football, and it’s high on Holupka’s to-do list with August’s training camp fast approaching.
“We’ve got to go out on the recruiting trail, as far as getting guys back out,” he said. “You’ve got to show the enthusiasm, and you’ve got to create an environment that is something they want to participate in. … I’m not saying we’re going to have a party every day — it’s hard work playing football — but we’re going to make the game of football as fun as we can.
“It’s a community thing around here. We want to bring our community up by giving them something to come and enjoy every Friday night. We’re going to do our business to make ourselves seen and make ourselves to where people want to come and see us.”