Even though there were a lot of new faces for second-year Lubbock Christian football coach Aaron Stone last season, there was still plenty of talent to have a successful campaign.
To a point, the Eagles did find success, going 6-5 and finishing third in district to qualify for the playoffs. But the season came to a bitter end after one round of the playoffs when LCHS lost by one point to a team it had destroyed by 38 earlier in the season.
For whatever reason, Stone said, the Eagles just never seemed to be able to put the right people in the right spots.
“Last year left a bitter taste in our mouths because we had 10 seniors who have played football here for a long time, and they were all looking to go further in the playoffs after experiencing the semifinals the year before,” Stone said. “It was a success because we made the playoffs but disappointed because our expectations were much higher.”
But there also seemed to be a need to bond closer as a team while at the same time find a way to make them dedicated to the offseason workout program. Through a new type of fitness program, Stone may have succeeded in accomplishing both at the same time.
Stone instituted CrossFit training as part of the offseason weight program. CrossFit, which has national competitions broadcast by ESPN, is described as short, intense workouts that require all-out exertion and involve such elements as running, jump ropes, weightlifting, pull-up bars, medicine balls and body weight exercises.
CrossFit is intended to improve fitness and physical preparedness while also increasing flexibility and strength.
“I realized I had to start thinking outside the box to find time for these young men to get into the weight room,” Stone said. “I started researching it and found out they have it for football. They really enjoyed it, and everyone who has been there is stronger or seen some serous gains.
“It’s aerobics with heavy weights. They’re fast-paced, high-intensity workouts. They’ve bought into it and some of the kids who are doing it have made it their goal to try out for the CrossFit games you see on ESPN.”
The next phase was transferring CrossFit to the football field, and Stone said it has gone well. Just like when a kid starting the offseason couldn’t do 25 pull-ups in a certain time but could by the end of the offseason, similarly a receiver who couldn’t run a certain pass route at the beginning of the offseason could execute it flawlessly by the end, thanks to the new training program.
“We saw some of it in spring football,” Stone said. “The hits are more solid, the kids’ core strength is improving and overall our confidence is improving. Whatever program you use in the weight room, as long as the kids see success and have bought in and enjoy it, you will be successful on the field. The bigger and stronger aspects are a bi-product. It’s the confidence that’s the big thing and the key to success from the weight room.”
If that confidence and ability transfers to the field in September, then the Eagles could be in line for another deep run considering the talent that is returning.
Leading that charge is senior quarterback Will Stephens, who threw for 1,837 yards and 22 touchdowns a year ago in his first season as a starter. He’ll be helped out in the backfield by junior Tyler Corbin at running back, who was named all-state as a sophomore last season.
Stone lost two of his top receivers from last year but feels he has a group of about seven to eight players this year that give the Eagles numerous options. Junior receiver Davis Delaney and senior tight end Josh Wilson lead the group as returning starters, and the rest of the group is made up of an eclectic bunch of transfers.
Trey Ferris, a senior, comes from Nazareth. Drew Thornton, a senior, came to LCHS after football season but played basketball. Senior Brooks Stephenson transferred after playing last year at tradition-rich Celina where he played running back, rushing for 30 yards on 11 carries. Evan McCullough, a senior, moves over from Kingdom Prep Academy.
It’s the front five that will require the most work with only two returning starters in junior left tackle Michael Low and senior center Braden Sutterfield. Candidates for the other three spots include seniors Taylor Bonner and Frenship transfer Matthew Foster and juniors Zack Baker and Tanner Thompson.
“We’ve got to get our offensive line to mesh and work together as a group,” Stone said.
Defensively there are a handful of returners starting, but Stone said not one player will be starting in the position he played last year.
Delaney will move from corner to safety despite defenses throwing away from his side of the field last season. Bonner will get a shot at either linebacker or defensive end while Corbin and Wilson will both get looks at defensive end as well.
The rest of the spots were open going into fall practices, but Stone was confident they could get the right players in the right spots quickly. Stone said a big boost could come from talented sophomore defensive back Brooks Pitaniello, who missed all of last season with a broken foot, as well as junior defensive back Zach Stone.
Stephenson, Thompson and senior Josh Beckett are penciled in to revamp the linebacking corps.
“We feel we have as much talent as anybody in our district,” Aaron Stone said. “If we go out there and every team we play is better than us and we are at .500 or 3-7 or 4-6 and we’ve given everything we’ve got, then we’ve got to play that card. I’m not going to be disappointed because we will have done everything we could since January. I’ve never had a team that worked this hard and had this many weapons. My hope and prayer is that their hard work will pay off on the field of play.”
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