RICHBURG — Will Mitchell hopes a little quality time with his Lewisville High School football players translates into more wins this year. The first-year coach reintroduced a popular tradition at the Class A school on Wednesday, a three-day football camp where the players stay overnight at the school gym and do nothing but eat, sleep and live pigskin until Saturday.
The camp, which hadnt been held the past four years, is part of the storied Lewisville tradition that Mitchell is trying to rekindle. The Lions won four state titles in the 1980s and 90s under Jimmy Wallace and Benny McMurray, while finishing runners-up in three more finals. All the while, Lewisville turned out stud talent like Sheldon Brown, currently with the NFLs Cleveland Browns, and Mike Barber and Wesley McFadden, who both starred at Clemson. That success engendered a pride in the communities that feed Lewisville, something that Mitchell cherishes.
Lewisvilles tradition speaks for itself, he said. Very much a Friday Night Lights feel, very much a traditional, small town feel, he said Wednesday evening in his office. In my mind, what high school football should be.
The Lewisville fan base also got used to winning, something the Lions havent done a whole lot of lately. Theyre a combined 9-23 the last three seasons, including a 3-8 mark last season. Anyone that remembers McFadden can recall the damage he did to opposing offenses in the early 1980s, a far cry from the past three campaigns when the Lions have been blanked no less than five times each year.
Mitchell is a defensive minded coach thats the side of the ball he coached for Charlottes Ardrey Kell High School last year but he knows his team will have to score points to win games. Hes installed a hurry-up system that he hopes will wear down opposing Class A schools. So far, the players really dig the new mode.
The guys have been working hard. Were working faster at getting set, just a sense of urgency, said senior offensive lineman Justin Cooper, one of nine Lions seniors. I think that the veterans are going to help out a lot with the new system that coach is putting in.
Mitchell said his team wants to control as many aspects of the game as possible, citing specifically special teams and lining up correctly to limit penalties. But speeding up the tempo of the game adds another element that Lewisville can control, one that should wear down the opposition defense.
Several benefits have emerged from the new system. The faster pace has increased the speed in practice, enabling Lewisville to get more done in the same period of time as the past years. Mitchells coaching staff has also had to develop more line depth so that the hogs in the trenches can remain fresh and players dont have to play both sides of the ball. Thats forced the coaches, and veteran starters, to have faith in younger, untested players. Cooper and senior quarterback Quay Walls are two of the 21 upperclassmen on the team, which also has 21 underclassmen.
When it comes to details and planning, Mitchell walks the walk. Lewisville athletic director and assistant football coach Rusty Pemberton was immediately impressed with Mitchells organization, commenting the other day that hes got his mess together.
Go in there and look at his board at our whole camp practice. Its there, but its in even more detail on the sheet of paper that he gave us (coaches), Pemberton said. Thats what I like about him; you dont have to wonder what youre gonna be doing.
The new coach with the fire under his rear doesnt like to waste time. And he doesnt want to squander anyone elses. Its too valuable.
Hes been emphasizing dont be casual about stuff, Walls said. Have a sense of urgency and have respect about yourself.
Respecting teammates and coaches has been just as important. Thats why each player turned in his cell phone Wednesday evening before camp and no electronics, including video games, were permitted. Mitchell wants his players to spend time communicating with each other, Without it being Twitter or Facebook.
Each player is assigned to a partner picked by the coaches, in most cases someone they dont normally associate with. The camp concludes with a talent show, as well as a partner quiz where the players have to answer basic questions about each other.
Youre almost forcing them to get to know each other, Mitchell said, to spend a lot of time in a confined environment, going through somewhat adverse situations. It will cause us to pull tighter.
One assistant coach offered that imitations of coaches will be accepted, for the talent contest, before Mitchell reminded the players that they would have a practice session the following Saturday morning and to tread lightly.
The atmosphere was pretty light-hearted for a team that won three games each of the last three years. But those results should improve. Besides Walls and Cooper, Mitchell will lean on senior running back Malcolm Means, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound running back that transferred from rival Great Falls and has shown explosive potential. Dequan Evans and Arkevian Williams anchor a defensive line that will be central to the Lions defensive attack. And three seniors that didnt play last year for various reasons should provide options in the passing game: Jacob Taylor, Allen Jordan and Trey McGarrity.
Mitchells team isnt playing the brutal schedule that the Lions battled in recent years, another factor that should help. Lewisville started 0-5 last year, playing against a non-conference schedule that consisted of primarily Class AAA and AAAA teams. The Lions lost to York, Nation Ford and Fort Mill by a combined 178-6 score, flattening their confidence before region play even started. Mitchell admits the schedule this year may look easier, but he contests that its only more realistic.
Its not what I would call easy, he said. What were not doing is playing teams that have twice the number of kids dressed against us.
Wednesday evening found the Lions players relaxing before the camp formally started. Groups of players lounged on inflatable mattresses or played card games of pittypat. The atmosphere was eager and energetic, but that was before anyone had gotten out of bed at 4:40 a.m. Billy Keels, a 12-year assistant and the schools head baseball coach, grinned at the realization that none of the Lions players had ever endured one of the camps.
None of these kids in here have ever done camp because they were seventh and eighth graders the last time we did it, he said. Theyve got a lot of energy now, but theyll be tired come Saturday at high noon.
By that time though, Mitchell and his staff hope the camps magic will have taken hold. Pemberton, who like Keels has been at the school more than 10 years, has seen it happen before.
You go through this for two or three days, youre gonna really see where it helps a football team, he said. Its more of a family than just a team.
The community is part of that equation too, which is why Mitchell is hosting Friday Night Lights tonight at the stadium. Any kid who wants to come out and get a feel for what its like to strap it up as a Lewisville Lion football player is welcome. The event costs $10 per child, money that will pay for the football players food during camp, and furthers the feeling of investment that the community has in its football program.
Having the families and neighbors and boosters around is beneficial to the Lions, as are seeing the photos of Brown and McFadden and Barber in the weight room hallways and the abundant state championship banners that line the gym rafters. These are reminders that Lewisville Lions win.
Theyve heard about all those championship banners, Pemberton said, and the way it used to be. The community has talked to them; the parents have talked to them. They want to be the team, the teams, that bring all that back.
Bret McCormick 329-4032