Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hickman Hires New Head Coach

Putting his stamp on the Kewpies

Thornburg gets awaited chance at coaching job.
By STEVE WALENTIK of the Tribune’s staff
Published Thursday, August 16, 2007

His voice carried through the sweltering summer air above the practice field at Hickman High School. This is Thornburg’s first year as a varsity coach.

"Come on, we need it in the air," Larry Thornburg shouted as he observed the Kewpies soccer team practicing corner kicks yesterday morning.
A minute later, the team’s new varsity coach set down a cone for his passers to aim for and began demonstrating the different runs he wanted his attackers to make.

Thornburg, 60, might have been covered in sweat and in need of hydration, but he was enjoying every minute of it.

"I’m having just a really fun time so far this year, and we haven’t even played a game yet," he said.

Thornburg had been waiting to get an opportunity like this for the past few years. The long-time club soccer coach said he has wanted a chance to work at the top high school level since he started coaching the Rock Bridge freshman team under David Graham in 2002.

He was disappointed after being passed over in the search for Graham’s successor three years ago. But Jon Strodtman’s decision to step down as the Hickman boys coach while he continues his seven-year battle with cancer presented another opportunity for Thornburg to get his shot.

Doug Mirts hired him to take over a team that went 11-7-4 last year but lost to Smith-Cotton in the first round of the Class 3 District 10 Tournament.

Thornburg has wasted no time remaking it, instituting a 4-3-3 alignment in place of Strodtman’s preferred 4-4-2. His approach puts more of an emphasis on attacking the opposition in the offensive end.

"We’re unlearning all the stuff we learned the past three years - the seniors, at least - and we’re relearning what he’s teaching us," said Harrison Cunningham, one of the Kewpies’ three senior captains.

"It’s tremendously hard," Thornburg said. "In the last two years, they played for a club coach, then they played for Coach Strodtman, then they played for another club coach, which may or may not have been the same, and now they’re playing for a new high school coach."

When picking his roster, Thornburg did not look back at last season to find out who the Kewpies’ starters were. Just because a guy played varsity last season didn’t guarantee him a spot. He used a camp in late June to familiarize himself with the players.

About 50 players participated. He divided them between upperclassmen and underclassmen, coaching the freshmen and sophomores in the morning and the juniors and seniors in the evening. By the end of the week, he made sure he knew each player’s name. He also developed a pretty good idea of his strengths and weaknesses.

"I selected what I felt like was the best 20 players that I thought could play my formation, the way I wanted to play soccer," he said. "Right now, we’re at least two deep, some places three deep."

Thornburg, who came to Columbia in 1975 after accepting a job at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has had almost 20 years figure out what types of players work best in the system he prefers.

The former college football player at Texas A&M got his start on the sidelines when his daughter Kate’s club team of 10-year-olds needed a coach in 1988. He began attending short coaching seminars, watching videos and reading books about the game. He traveled to different tournaments, where he watched the best teams in a particular age group to learn what could be expected of them.

Before then, he knew almost nothing about the game. "I knew soccer had two Cs," said Thornburg, who accepted early retirement from the university after more than 30 years of teaching.

Since Thornburg started coaching, he has developed a fondness for the sport.

"The reason I like the game is because there’s no timeout," Thornburg said. "It’s a player’s game. You’ll never see me yelling on the sideline at the players. If we’ve got a problem, I’ll call him out, talk to him and send him back. If the other team’s got a weakness, I’ll call him out and tell them, ‘Hey, here’s what I need you guys to do,’ " and send them back. "But I abhor people that stand on the sidelines yelling, ‘Pass the ball up here, pass the ball up there.’ "

He saves those directions for the practice field, something his new team has learned since workouts started Aug. 6.

"He’s pretty intense," senior midfielder David Garman said. "But then by the end of practice, he’s always telling us what we did good and what we need to work on."

Thornburg plans on using the early part of the schedule, which begins with a game Aug. 30 at Rolla, to try out different combinations of players to see who adjusts to game situations and which players work well together.

With 12 seniors on the varsity roster, the Kewpies are hoping those questions are answered quickly so they can make a deep postseason run.

"Hopefully, we’ll get through districts and into sectionals," said senior forward Evan Camden, the team’s leading returning scorer. "It’s my last year to try to get that district title. We’re going to be gunning for it."

Reach Steve Walentik at (573) 815-1788 or

(Picture insert: Don Shrubshell photo. Hickman soccer Coach Larry Thornburg, kneeling, rolls a ball during a drill while, from left, Kyle Boger, Mason Morawitz, James Moesel and Matt Brumit get ready to participate. This is Thornburg’s first year as a varsity coach. )

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Driving Directions

  • WAYNESVILLE : Take 63 South Towards Jeff City. Take US-54 W thru Osage Beach to Camdenton. Take MO Hwy 5 South to Lebanon , MO.Continue on MO Hwy 5 South to I-44 E towards Waynesville, MO. Take Exit 156, toward WAYNESVILLE/FORT LEONARD WOOD. Turn LEFT onto HIGHWAY H/I-44-BL/MO-H. Continue to follow I-44-BL.Turn RIGHT onto MO-17/W I-44-BL.1001 HISTORIC 66 W.
  • QUINCY TOURNAMENT IN QUINCY ILLINOIS: From Columbia Take 70 West to Kingdom City. Take 54 North to Mexico and then 54 east and north (54/19) to Laddonia. From Laddonia take 19 North to New London and then 61 North to Hannibal. When you get to Hannibal, you will need to take a right at the sign that says Quincy or to Illinois or to Springfield which is hwy 72 across the river. You will then pick up Highway 172 north to Quincy. In Quincy take the Broadway exit and go left.The fields we are playing on are located on State Street. The streets in Quincy that run West to East are numbered streets. The Mississippi River is to the West and the street numbers get higher the further East you go. When you enter from highway 172 the first street you will see is 48th street. Go left. At State St turn right and the park is a few blocks on the right. The Paul Dennis Complex is located on State between 36th and 48th street.
  • JEFFERSON CITY- 179 SOCCER PARK: Take 63 to Jeff City. Across the river take Hwy 50 toward Sedalia. Take the hwy 179 exit and turn right onto 179. The soccer park is about 3 miles on your left.
  • DESMET High school from CBC High school (about 3 miles): leave CBC and turn left (east) onto N Forty Dr. Turn right onto Conway Rd. Follow Conway Rd to left at S New Ballas Rd and it is about 1.2 miles to the high school at 233 N. New Ballas Rd.
  • CBC High school in St Louis: about 1 hour and 50 minutes. Take I-70 east to US40E/US61S just past Wentzville. Head toward Chesterfield/Forrest Park. About 23 miles to Mason Rd exit. Take S Mason Rd north back over the highway. Turn right on N. Forty Dr and the high school is on your left about a mile at 1850 De la Salle Dr.
  • CAMDENTON: Hwy 54 out of Jeff City to Hwy 5 in Camdenton. Turn left (east) on to Hwy 5. Continue on Hwy 5 for 5 or 6 blocks and can see the school campus on your left (north side of road). Turn on to Dare Blvd and the stadium is a block or two behind the schools.
  • SMITHTON TOURNAMENT: I-70 west to Booneville. Exit on Hwy 5 south. From Hwy 5 take Hwy 50 west. Go to Hwy W and turn south. Follow Hwy W into Smithton. Turn east on to E. Washington St. (I think this is a continuation of Hwy W), Turn right (south) on to Myrtle Ave and the school is 550 Myrtle Ave. Games are at the school.
  • ROLLA: Hwy 63 out of Jefferson City. Continue on Hwy 63 into Rolla. Turn left (east) on to 10th St. Continue on 10th St about 8 blocks to N. Cedar St. High School is at corner of N. Cedar and 10th St. Soccer field is behind the high school.