Most football programs probably wouldn’t say a 2-8 season was successful. But for Lake Ridge, its pair of wins in 2013 actually signified a significant step forward for the Eagles.
It was the school’s second year of existence, and after going 0-10 in year one, Lake Ridge picked up its first-ever victory and first-ever district win last season. Those milestones helped set the stage for this spring’s camp.
“I think there was a renewed since of confidence in them,” head coach Kirk Thor said. “I think after last season they know they can compete. What we had to do was take the next step of just going from being able to be close [in games] to actually going out and winning games. I think there was still a sense of urgency with our kids knowing that they’ve got to continue to go day by day and work through the process to have the ability to win games next year when the time comes down to it.”
Thor may have indirectly been speaking about two games in which the Eagles lost by a single point and another on a last-second field goal. If those three games go the other way, Lake Ridge is a .500 ball club.
Some coaches will tell you that the biggest progress is made in the offseason, and if that’s the case, Lake Ridge could be in for another year of significant improvement in 2014.
“We’re still a young team,” Thor noted. “I think we made improvements across the board. Defensively, I think we saw our biggest strides. Our defense really stepped up and guys now have a year of experience, so really had a good defensive spring and accomplished what we thought we could getting people in the right positions.
“Offensively, I thought we did well,” he continued. “We’re replacing some guys, some seniors, that we have to, but I think overall our staff was very excited about the progress we saw and the continued attitude, effort and work ethic and just how they improved overall as football players.”
The Eagles’ key losses to graduation are leading receiver Jalyn Hernandez, a few linemen along both the offensive and defensive lines, and at fullback. That’s relatively good news for a defense that surrendered more than 40 points in a game on six occasions last season. With as many as nine starters returning to that side of the ball, Lake Ridge hopes that leads to better overall performances in 2014.
“There’s a lot more confidence on defense,” Thor said. “I think we’re a lot faster. We like to attack and move around and I think our kids got that. We’re a little faster, so I feel really good about our defense putting some pressure on opponents next year.”
Offensively, the Eagles benefit from the return of Jett Duffey, who is back to lead the offense. The quarterback threw for over 2,000 yards last season and added another 800 yards on the ground in Lake Ridge’s high-speed, high-octane system.
“Quarterback in any offense is a strong leadership position,” Thor said. “Just the fact that this spring Jett knew our passing game, knew our running and knew what we were trying to do. Last year at this time he was still trying to learn the system. When you walk into spring and start day one and he already has a year of experience under his belt, you can teach some more complex things and fine-tune what you’re doing and it really helps.”
Duke Carter also returns to the backfield after racking up more than 1,100 yards rushing last season with 16 touchdowns.
“Really, across the whole team there was a great level of familiarity with our offensive and defensive schemes, so we weren’t doing as much installation teaching as we were refining what we were already doing. That allows you to have a more productive spring,” Thor commented.
In fact, Thor was hard-pressed to come up with individual players who caught his eye over the spring because he said there was so much growth overall.
“Not because nobody made strides, but because we had so much improvement as a team and as individuals. It really excites our coaches. Naming one would do a disservice to the others because so many made strides and so many worked so hard in the offseason that it was fun to see them develop in the spring.”
Lake Ridge, like most other high schools in Texas, will have a summer strength and conditioning program before returning to fall camp in late August, when the Eagles will begin the 2014 season in earnest and see just how far they have grown.
“Every team is completely different – chemistry-wise, ability-wise – that’s what makes coaching fun,” Thor said.