One thing was noticeably different about Lake Ridge spring football this year: the Eagles were coming off a winning season for the first time in the school’s short history. But despite their 8-5 campaign in 2014, which included a pair of playoff victories, most things were same as they ever were. And that’s just how head coach Kirk Thor prefers it.
“The first year being 0-10, versus last year being 8-5, if you walk in our locker room or walk in our field house, you wouldn’t notice a difference. One thing we wanted was to set the tone that we’re going to be the same regardless,” Thor said. “The 8-5 year was awesome because it’s a lot of fun to look back and see that we can actually do it. That really helps confidence-wise. As far as a change in attitude, there’s really not much of a change there.”
And so with that backdrop the Eagles got back to work with the same attitude, if not ratcheted up a bit.
“When you’re a young program and you’ve had a winning season, you have to teach your kids how to handle success,” Thor explained. “So one thing we emphasized every day in the offseason was that you’ve got to continue to work hard and do what you’re doing one day at a time because the easiest way to fail after you’ve had success is to think you’ve arrived and not work hard. We made it a lot more intense. We worked a lot harder. We challenged our kids probably harder than we ever have and they responded to that.”
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Aiding the mission is that Lake Ridge returns a wealth of experienced lettermen. Whereas some teams spend the spring hammering down fundamentals and schematic basics, the Eagles were able to hit the ground running.
“We were able to pick up pretty quickly where we left off and get into some minor details that you normally wouldn’t on both sides of the ball, so that was a huge help for us,” Thor said.
But there’s also a supplementary benefit to having all that experience.
“It also allows us to work some of our younger kids more so we get to really develop those younger kids and create a tradition in the school,” he added. “We, really for the first time, were able to focus on our young kids and spend a lot of quality time with them. Our young kids showed some tremendous growth in the spring. It’s really exciting to see those kids develop so you can create a program and not just one good year or one good team.”
Two of the key returning pieces will be quarterback Jett Duffey and running back Duke Carter, who accounted for 59 total touchdowns last season. Duffey, a Texas Tech pledge, received attention this spring for his invitation to the Elite 11 Quarterback Competition. As cornerstones of the offense, one of the primary goals of spring ball was to find capable backups for both positions, and Thor feels they’ve done that.
Freshman Jason Bean made significant strides over the spring as the No. 2 QB. Thor was also pleased with what he saw from the young running backs and receivers.
One area of concern was the offensive line, where two seniors departed. One of those, center Alec Byrd, had taken every snap in Lake Ridge history. Guard Anthony Narro will shift over to replace him.
As a whole, Thor felt the defense needed improvement. Six times last season the Eagles allowed 35 points or more. If the spring game is foretelling, Lake Ridge should improve those statistics in 2015.
“We’re a lot faster and I think we’re playing a lot better,” Thor said. “I think next year the biggest improvement you’ll see is that the defense has made some huge strides.”
He was especially pleased with the secondary, where he thinks a few future stars may be blooming.
Most importantly from the spring, the Eagles stayed healthy. Outside the normal wear and tear, there were no significant losses to injury.
And for Thor, it was of course important to see that same Lake Ridge attitude he instilled from day one.
“They’re starting to jell together as a team. I was excited by our spring game and the effort they gave,” Thor said. “They played with a lot of passion. They play with heart and they have fun. You go in our locker room and it’s fun. Our kids are laughing and having a good time. Our coaches are having a good time. We love our kids, it’s a fun environment to be around.”