Young and talented.
Those three words are often used when referring to the 2015 version of the Lewisville football team. The Lions return 36 players from last season, 30 of which are rising sophomores or juniors. And just like last season, coach Will Mitchell’s squad will be tested in the first half of the campaign as they face off against higher classification foes.
“We play arguably the toughest single A schedule in the state,” Mitchell said last Thursday morning following practice. “We do not play a 1A team until our seventh game of the season and that’s against (region foe) McBee, and they return 16 starters from a team that averaged over 50 points a game.”
Along with McBee, the Lions are joined in Region 3-A by Chester county rival Great Falls, C.A. Johnson, and Lamar. But by the time region play begins in October, Lewisville will have already faced up a pair of 3A opponents and three 2As in non-region play.
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Compare that with the schedules of (for example) East Clarendon and Dixie, a pair of 1A high schools with similar enrollment to Lewisville according to 2014-2016 SCHSL figures. East Clarendon will have played five 1A teams before game seven, and Dixie will have encountered four.
Lewisville includes Lancaster and Chester in its first five contests. Mitchell said that his team won’t be scheduling 3As after this year, though the closest 1A non-region foe would be Whitmire, nearly an hour away.
Mitchell, entering his fourth year as the Lions’ head man, was asked if playing such a tough schedule would reap benefits as this season progresses.
“It can go either way,” he said.
Senior receiver James Peeler said that dealing with the aftermath of heavy defeats against bigger schools was difficult last season with so much inexperience. But the team’s communication has improved, a product of the players staying overnight in the gym to open preseason camp last weekend.
"Camp really got all of us have on the same page and we really want to win, and w know we've got to do whatever it takes to win," said Peeler. "So, I just try to give them words of encouragement to get them ready to play."
The Lions finished the 2014 season 2-9 after going winless in their first eight contests. But Peeler sees the benefit of playing bigger schools, even if its not immediate.
"It gets us ready for region and once you play little schools, it's just a piece of cake, really," he said. "We play schools that have 60 kids on the roster and we have about 30; we can't really compete with them.
"The conditioning and toughness we get from playing teams like that, it carries on.”
21 of the Lewisville program’s 45 players are freshmen or sophomores
Lewisville’s junior and sophomores classes are chock full of talent. Tenth grade defensive tackle Josh Belk is ranked in the top 30 players in the nation in the class of 2018 despite playing just four varsity games last fall. Junior linebacker Jene Thompson and quarterback Trey Keels stand good shots at playing Division I college football. The talent is there, even if the veteran savvy occasionally lacks.
"We have little spurts of immaturity, but we've learned to deal with it because it was the same thing last year," said Peeler. "Getting on to them doesn't really work because they don't understand that, that it's all serious."
The youthfulness makes seniors like Peeler and running back D.J. Robinson even more valuable. Robinson, a senior who was one of the numerous Lions injured most of last year, is anxious to get the season underway.
“I only played in four games last season so I’m trying extra hard to stay healthy,” he said. A strong blocker, he added, “I will stop at nothing to keep my quarterback healthy. I am very confident we will improve on our 2-9 record.”
Peeler, who has been at Lewisville since his sophomore year after moving from Jacksonville, Fla., is extremely optimistic about the Lions’ fortunes this season. With the August 21 season opener against the Chester Cyclones just over a week away, the - there it is again - young and talented Lions are ready to prove that the youth movement will pay off in the wins column.
“We got a lot of talent this year and I believe this is the best team I have been on since I started playing football,” Peeler said. “We got a lot to prove because we aren’t ranked coming off last year, and some people aren’t expecting much. We are getting better and better with each practice.”
Visit this link to see a map of Lewisville’s nearest potential 1A non-region football opponents. Bret McCormick contributed reporting.
Enrollment sizes of Lewisville’s non-region schedule
Lewisville’s average daily membership is 365 students, according to the latest numbers released by the South Carolina High School League. The Lions football team won’t play a team with similar-sized enrollment until Region 3-A action begins in October.
Aug. 21- at Chester (3A, 820 ADM)
Aug. 28- at Blacksburg (2A, 527)
Sept. 4- Chesterfield (2A, 528)
Sept. 11- Indian Land (2A, 843)
Sept. 18- at North Central- (2A, 469)
Sept. 25- at Lancaster (3A, 1,355)