During the early summer months, when heat indexes across the country shot to record levels, the air conditioning in the Lewisville High School weight room quit working. For the next two months, the varsity Lions football squad labored in sweltering temperatures that provided no respite from the outside humidity.
But for a team which openly questioned its work ethic after a disappointing 2009 season, the unexpected turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
"We would actually go outside to cool off from the weight room," joked senior starting receiver and strong safety Larnell Robinson. "But now as we go into the season, I think the hard work paid off and in the end it was a good thing for us."
Under first-year coach Marvin Burke, the Lions limped to a 4-7 record last season as they struggled with issues such as conditioning and new coaching.
And as the team gradually arrived for a late-afternoon film session, Burke offered his take on the lessons learned from a trying 2009 season.
"Last year was a learning experience for both the kids and me," Burke said. "They had to adjust to my coaching style, and I had to adjust to the new environment and community. But the main thing I took away was the importance of preparedness, both on the field and in the weight room. Our guys were getting worn out by the other teams ... last season, so conditioning is our top priority in 2010. "
Lion standout Quentin McKnight (receiver and free safety) acknowledged that a lack of mental and physical stamina played a major role in last season's record. But the team's motivation to undo the stigma attached to them last season reflects the Lions' overall mentality as a whole.
"I've been using that as motivation this offseason," said McKnight while pointing towards a sign hanging above workout equipment. "It gets me mad every time I see it."
The sign depicts a 70-0 loss to Chesterfield last season that McKnight called "embarrassing." The loss symbolized the Lions' tendency to fizzle out in the face of adversity, something McKnight and his teammates vow won't happen again.
Though the team has found renewed vigor through on-field training and preparation, tragedies have also spurred the drive heading into the season.
The latest came Aug. 14 when senior running back Brian Colvin, one of the team's most popular players, collapsed at the Chester County Football Jamboree and later died.
The scrimmage against Westminster Catawba continued as Colvin was taken to Chester Regional Medical Center. Burke told his players about Colvin's death after the Lions boarded the bus for the trip back to Richburg.
"It's tough to tell about a best friend, a classmate, a teammate that has passed away," Burke told The Herald. "This is a small community where everyone knows each other from kindergarten to high school."
The Lions were scheduled to open the season last Friday against York. The game was moved to Sept. 24, formerly an open date for both teams.
Another tragedy has loomed over the Lions' preseason routine -- the Aug. 7 death of 15-year-old Catherine Fowler, a former Lions cheerleader and athlete.
And while the team has practiced and scrimmaged with heavy hearts, Robinson said last week the team will internalize Fowler's memory and honor her the only way they know how - by winning.
"Catherine dying definitely shook this team up, and we've let sadness and pity affect our practices this week," Robinson said. "But when the season starts, we're going to keep Catherine close to us and work harder than we ever have before. She'll be missed."
Burke described the preseason energy as "extremely high" and praised his team for utilizing an unexpected mishap like the weight room malfunction as fuel to push even harder. Burke expressed confidence in his team's offseason commitment to the gym, expecting his players to reap the benefits of being more physically fit.
"Any coach will tell you that if you bulk up in the weight room, your stamina, quickness and everything else will greatly improve as well," Burke said. "These kids have definitely improved in all facets this summer, and I couldn't be more impressed with them. Now it's time to see if it will translate out on the field."