Spring is often symbolic of new life, and for the Mansfield Lake Ridge football team, that’s the approach it’s taking. Each January, the squad gathers to discuss how it’s time to start anew.
“We talk about how every team is different,” head coach Kirk Thor said. “Every team has a different personality, though the standards we have are the same. Our culture will stay the same, though the people are different.”
So when it comes time for spring practice, the Eagles are in search of this “new” team’s identity.
“Probably the most important thing we do in the spring is have a team culture that is set for this team,” Thor said. “This is team number six. What’s their personality coming into the fall?”
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Ever since we lost to Highland Park last season, we’ve been looking forward to putting pads on. The first week in full pads, everyone was excited for it. Everyone likes to hit.
- Lake Ridge offensive tackle Blake Lodes
For offensive tackle Blake Lodes, starting new doesn’t mean completely leaving last year behind, but simply using that as the new foundation.
“We’re senior-heavy this [coming] year,” he said. “A lot of us were rookies — fresh meat — on the varsity level last year. I think we’re taking our experience and the things we learned, the knowledge we’ve gained into this upcoming year.”
As a member of the team’s leadership council, the lineman is one of the guys helping shape the current Lake Ridge culture.
“I’ve been with these guys since little league,” Lodes said. “We’ve all grown up together and hung out. I’ve always thought of myself as a leader; it’s not something that just popped up out of nowhere. I’ve always been vocal and lead my guys in the right direction. Whether or not they want to follow, that’s up to them, but I do my best.”
More than a week into spring camp, “energetic” is one word Thor would use to describe this team’s personality.
“I think the energy level has been awesome,” Thor said.
“Ever since we lost to Highland Park last season, we’ve been looking forward to putting pads on,” Lodes added. “The first week in full pads, everyone was excited for it. Everyone likes to hit. Even if we’re teammates, hitting is fun. That just creates excitement.”
Lodes might also describe the team as thirsty. And not just for water during a hot practice.
“I see a thirst in everyone’s eyes,” he said. “Every year is a new year. We start fresh and don’t worry about the past. When you lose in the third round to the state champs, it puts a chip on your shoulder. I think that’s one thing I like about this team is that everyone is so thirsty to do better.”
Lake Ridge will end drills with its spring game on May 19, using an actual game format. Thor feels that’s most entertaining for the fans and players. And those in the stands will get to see “ones versus ones.”
“Iron sharpens iron and that’s kind of our approach,” Thor said, explaining why he puts the starting defense against the starting offense.
Above all the hard work, sweat, cuts and bruises — even above the wins and losses — Lodes, who expects to be playing college football on Saturdays in 2018, is also trying to keep an important perspective on his final year of high school football.
“Of course I want to make this my best year, but at the end of the day, whether we’re district champs or not, or go three rounds deep or not, or go to state, I just want to have fun,” he said. “I just want to have fun with my guys one last go-round. I want everyone to do their best, including myself, so we can play the most we can. But at the end of the day, I want to have fun with my guys and go out with a bang.”