Sluder's turnaround key to the Warriors' success

Sluder's turnaround key to the Warriors' success

TUSCOLA — Bad attitudes can permeate throughout a football team and cause tension.

Luke Sluder would know. He used to have one.

"My freshman year when I started high school football," the Tuscola quarterback said, "it kind of flicked through my mind that I was a little bit arrogant."

Andy Romine noticed. The third-year Tuscola coach, who was an assistant around the program prior to his stint leading the Warriors, has seen Sluder make strides in the attitude department.

Big time.

"He wanted a perception of being very masculine and macho," Romine said. "He's become a far better teammate than what he had been in the past. He's genuinely excited for his teammates, and I'm not sure that was the case four or five years ago. I'm really, really proud of where he's come as a teammate."

Confidence is one trait all coaches want out of their quarterbacks. But toeing the difference between that characteristic and downright cockiness is something Sluder has learned in the past few seasons.

"I kind of got that under control and noticed that I'm not the whole team," Sluder said. "I just need to help the team win."

Now a junior, Sluder is a key linchpin to the Warriors' success this season, success that has advanced Tuscola (11-0) into a Class 1A state-quarterfinal home game against Carrollton (10-1) at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Sluder is 93 of 159 for 1,636 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions when he drops back to pass. When the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Sluder tucks the ball and runs, he's effective, too, rushing for a team-high 725 yards and 13 touchdowns on 126 carries this season.

"I don't really care about the stats," Sluder said. "I just want to get the win."

Impressive numbers, no doubt. But that's what Tuscola quarterbacks do.

"We've always seemed to have those hard-nosed quarterbacks who can run the ball well and throw it, too," Tuscola senior receiver/defensive back Dalton Hoel said. "That's just the tradition that Tuscola has built. Luke is following in those footsteps."

Last year's starter, Kaleb Williams, registered 1,539 passing yards, 1,404 rushing yards and 47 total touchdowns. The previous starter, Nick Bates, accumulated 5,248 passing yards, 2,285 rushing yards and 107 total touchdowns during his four-year career at Tuscola.

The long lineage of successful Tuscola quarterbacks is nothing new, dating to Dusty Burk's time with the Warriors in the mid-1990s, stretching to the John Wienke era in the mid-2000s and extending into this decade. Sluder is next in line, and it's a role he's embracing. While trying not to make it all about himself.

"Following Nick and Kaleb, they were two of the best quarterbacks who ever went through here," Sluder said. "Coming to practice with them really made me into the player I am today. It's some pressure knowing the great quarterbacks that have come before me. I get some people around town saying, 'Good game,' or something like that. It's really nice getting the recognition, and the team really likes it, too."

Sluder didn't hesitate or have to be prompted when adding that his teammates enjoy some of the limelight thrust upon them. A few years ago, he might not have made that same comment. His teammates have noticed a difference, too.

"He's a great person to be around," Hoel said. "We're together a lot outside of school. It's not one of those things where I'm just around him during football and can't stand him once practice ends."

Sluder didn't start out playing quarterback. When he first took up the sport in third grade, he was a lineman. Then, he switched to wide receiver before he ultimately stepped into the quarterback position in eighth grade. A position he's more than comfortable with now.

"Seeing him play some last season, he's changed completely," Tuscola senior lineman Hunter Woodard said. "His passes are better, he's running a lot harder, and he's running through people, a lot like our last two quarterbacks did. Just seeing him progress is really exciting. He's going to be a stud next year."

And Sluder is also comfortable in his own skin, accepting the role he has and trying to give Tuscola a win in front of its die-hard fans on Saturday at Memorial Field. A change in attitude can be a good thing, as Sluder has learned.

"I love all the fans that come out," Sluder said. "It's a great experience. Every high school kid wants that. I just love being on the field with all of my teammates. There's no better feeling."