Lewisville’s four linebackers are good students of football history.
Will Mitchell’s Lions play a 4-6 defense and their linebackers - Jene Thompson, Darryl Manning, Jaylen McFadden and Keilan Renegar - all know that the venerated 1986 Chicago Bears used the same system.
When describing himself during an interview Monday, Renegar noted he had a little of “the Boz” in him, a nod to 80s football icon and wild child Brian Bosworth. That launched a brief debate about the time that Bo Jackson trucked Bosworth, an odd discussion for teenagers born around Y2K.
Lewisville hosts Blacksburg Friday, looking to go 2-0 for the first time since 2000. Blacksburg (0-0) had a Week Zero bye.
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As the season goes on, and if Lewisville builds upon its 36-6 thrashing of Andrew Jackson High last Friday, those linebackers and the rest of the Lions will learn some more football history. It’s the 30-year anniversary of Jimmy Wallace’s 1986 Lewisville team that went 14-0 and won the school’s first state title. That group allowed an almost unthinkably low 48 points the entire season, an average of 3.4 per game.
It’s too early to talk about the 2016 team running the table, or allowing only 42 more points this season.
It’s not too early to talk about Thompson, Manning, McFadden and Renegar. The paucity of information coming out of 1A high school football in South Carolina makes it difficult to render judgments about the group’s statewide standing, but Mitchell has a very talented group on his hands.
Click on the icons to hear Will Mitchell talk about his linebackers:
After several years of taking beatings from bigger and more mature teams, Lewisville is ready to dish it back out this year, starting with its linebacking corps.
“We knew everything was gonna be different this year,” said Renegar. “We have a defense that’s majority seniors and we all played together last season. There’s just a lot of chemistry.”
“We know what we can do, we know what we’re capable of,” said Thompson.
Friday night we let it all out.
Lewisville senior linebacker Darryl Manning
Lewisville looked strong in the preseason and backed that up in Week Zero, holding the Volunteers to 46 total yards and six points. Outside linebackers/edge rushers Manning and Thompson put constant pressure on the Andrew Jackson QBs. Each finished with a pair of quarterback sacks.
“Almost every play, me and Darryl would cross each other,” said Thompson.
“Hey Jene!” Manning said, reenacting the goofy greetings the two didn’t actually share while in the midst of competitive football.
The four were talking to a reporter before Monday’s study hall. When asked who the joker of the group is, three of them pointed to Manning. He smiled widely.
Renegar - a transfer from Rock Hill High - has a 4.0-plus grade point average and could play at the Division III level, but he might end up at Georgia Tech as a future engineer. That doesn’t exactly gel with the rest of his persona; he drives a fast and buzzing Honda and wears his hair in a samurai do on Friday nights. The 5-foot-8, 155-pounder might be the meanest kid on the team, on the field at least.
Keilan Renegar led The Herald’s 12-school coverage area in forced fumbles in 2015, with five.
Thompson transferred in from Northwestern two years ago and is the strongest and best college prospect of the bunch, with Southern Conference and Sun Belt schools paying close attention. He’s similarly built to Manning - 6-foot-1, 215 pounds - and they mirror each other perfectly on opposite sides of the Lions’ set-up.
McFadden - 13 tackles, including two for a loss, against Andrew Jackson - has a personal connection to that vaunted ‘86 team. His dad, Michael, was just a sophomore and a leading defensive end and fullback. McFadden is probably the most intense of the current linebackers. Like Renegar, he won’t pass the eye test for Division I college football coaches but Mitchell sees McFadden - imbued with an innate knack for the game - as a potential future Division II All-American.
The four lead Lewisville’s defense, physically and spiritually. Intimidation is part of the Lions’ thing; to that end, Mitchell purchased skin-tight warmup shirts for this season. The Lions look the part, especially on the 1A level. But that’s not where they need to improve as a team.
“A lot of our learning needs to take place off the field,” said Mitchell.
We have to have some swagger, man.
Lewisville coach Will Mitchell is trying to help his team find the proper amount of aggression and attitude, without going overboard.
There is a fine line between too little aggression and too much.
Scraps with a couple teams during the early parts of last preseason and regular season underscored the personal growth that still needs to happen. Lewisville’s linebackers are making extra efforts to avoid costly penalties that prolong drives or lead to opponents’ scores.
“Talk with your pads,” said McFadden.
“Throw your hands up and walk away,” said Manning.
“It’s been a point of emphasis,” Mitchell said.
Besides, there are plenty of memories to keep the Lions humble.
“Playing the 3A teams, that was brutal,” said Renegar. “That set us up for the point where we are now. 1A teams don’t have Ant Foster running the ball.”
Renegar referenced Lancaster’s powerful running back Foster, and specifically remembered encountering a trio of Bruins running at him, a pulling offensive tackle, a fullback and Foster, nearly as big as the first two, trailing.
“The second we start getting cocky is the second it starts to fall off,” said Renegar. “We haven’t been the greatest team in past year, but we’re just trying to take it game by game. AJ is behind us, we’re off that high horse and now we’re focusing on the next game.”
Lewisville Lions linebackers describe each other
Jaylen McFadden’s best attributes: “Vision. He reads the play better than anyone.” - Renegar
Keilan Renegar: “Keilan’s crazy. Go ahead and put ‘crazy Keilan.’” - Thompson
Jene Thompson: “Muscles. He’s coming.” - McFadden
Darryl Manning: “Speed. Finesse. He’s got recovery time, too.” - Thompson and McFadden