An unseasonal early morning haze enshrouded Lancaster’s first day of high school football practice on Aug. 2. Whether the Bruins are able to break through the haze that cloaked their program last year will depend largely on a group of juniors that was prematurely forced into prominent roles during a dismal 2012 season.
“Hopefully the burning they got last year is going to prepare them for some of the things they’ll see this year,” said Lancaster head coach Bennie McMurray. “We’re excited, but we know we’ve got our hands full.”
The Bruins started last fall’s campaign already lacking depth and attritional injuries further exacerbated the issue. At one point, McMurray’s club started nine sophomores. Pitted against Region 3-AAAA’s titans, it’s no surprise Lancaster finished 2-9.
“Practice-wise, I was shocked,” junior offensive tackle Trevin Watts said about being thrust into a starting role. “I had to get my butt up and do something, be a leader. I figured it would happen, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon.
2012’s yearlong funk impacted the returning players. The Bruins, especially their seniors, don’t want to be branded with a similarly poor record in their final year of prep football. As McMurray pointed out, last year’s senior class is consigned to wear “2-9” like a scarlet letter forever.
“I said to myself that is unacceptable. I can’t take another season like that,” said Quay Reid, a senior defensive lineman. “I can’t have a last season only winning two games and losing nine. That’s not a good look; that’s what everybody remembers you by. It’s embarrassing.”
To take steps forward, Lancaster will need its junior class, which took a hiding at times last year, to prove it was hardened, not broken, by the hardship. The group has talent, crucial for a Bruins team that needs playmakers to emerge on both sides of the ball in the coming weeks.
“Everybody will hopefully break out,” McMurray said. “We need several to step up and lead this young bunch; hopefully our seniors are gonna’ do that.”
McMurray was asked if he had any particular candidates in mind.
“It’s hard to put a finger on who you want, and it doesn’t matter to me who, just so long as somebody steps up and does a good job.”
6-foot-3 wide receiver Jay Hood could be one. Hood showed flashes last season as a 10th grader, grabbing four passes for 122 yards and touchdown against Blythewood and making six catches for 158 yards and two scores against Fort Mill. But he also didn’t catch a single football in three other region contests, emblematic of the team’s offensive struggles and its reliance on inconsistent young players.
Junior quarterback Kendarius Truesdale will have to grab the team’s offense by the scruff, while developing a strong voice in the huddle. “Red,” as he’s called by the team, played last season in relief of injured starter Kendarrius Jackson. He knows it won’t be easy as the full-time starter. Asked if he was nervous, Truesdale admitted, “a little bit, but I’m just gonna have to step up and do what I have to do to help us win.”
Truesdale’s backside will be protected by Watts, the left tackle. 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Watts chugged through a difficult 2012 campaign, battling to keep his footing against more experienced and physically developed players.
“It was something new,” Watts said. “I’d never started, had all the people watching me, and had a lot of pressure on my shoulders. The ones that played last year, I think it will help us greatly because we’ve already got the experience. It’s out the way.”
Lancaster’s 2013 batch of sophomores will likely be called on as the season develops, just like their predecessors. Besides injuries, all of the Bruins that spoke to the Herald earlier this week alluded to a renewed focus on conditioning, a lack of which cost them in the second halves of games last year. Lancaster was outscored 138-65 in the second half of seven Region 3-AAAA games, and coughed up early leads in losses to Central Pageland, Nation Ford, Fort Mill and South Pointe.
“I think by the second half we was just wore out and couldn’t hold out until the end,” Reid said.
Some modicum of respite is on the way. This is Lancaster’s last school year in Class AAAA with the Bruins moving down to AAA in 2014. That shift will pit Lancaster against more similarly-sized schools, though Region 3-AAA will be just as competitive as Region 3-AAAA, what with Chester, South Pointe and Union County in the mix.
“You’re going from NFL East to NFL Central,” McMurray joked last week.
As the Bruins broke the huddle at the conclusion of the first official practice of 2013, sun finally busted though the foggy cap hovering over Lancaster. It took the whole morning, but the field was suddenly showered in brightness as McMurray’s team trudged off the field.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T