With nine returning starters on offense, including a junior quarterback who was a backup at this time last summer, Lakota East head coach Rick Haynes feels that his team should get off to a fast start in 2012.
“There is not a whole lot of teaching. There is some reviewing, but these kids are very, very smart, so they still remember all the things we talked about last year and their assignments,” said Haynes, who is entering his third season as head coach with a combined 7-13 record at Lakota East. “It is going to allow us to get started a little quicker than we had in the past.”
Getting off to a good start wasn’t the issue last fall, as the Thunderhawks won three of its first four games. The only loss, during that run, was at La Salle, 27-23, a game Lakota East led, 23-21, with about two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The problem for East wasn’t the start, but sustaining that early season success, as Lakota East went on to lose five of its last six games.
“The coaches talked about it, whether we got tired or we were out of shape because we started off 3-1 and ended the season 1-5,” Haynes said. That is obviously something that we are going to address.”
The team, which returns five starters on defense and features almost 30 seniors, responded by working this offseason on improving their strength and conditioning.
“I believe this is the strongest team we have had. It might be the strongest team East has ever had,” Haynes said. “The kids have done a great job in the weight room and I also think we are faster than we have been.
“We have great senior leadership.”
That senior leadership is most apparent on the defensive side of the ball, where linebackers Jake Chestnut (second team all-GMC, second on East in total tackles in 2011) and Keith Brady (sixth on East in total tackles in ‘11), along with defensive lineman J.T. Turner (led East in tackles for loss and in sacks in ’11) and free safety Rob Harpring (converted quarterback) lead the way.
Offensively, Harpring began last season as the starting quarterback before being replaced by Eric Eichler in the La Salle game in Week 3.
Eichler, who will be a junior this fall, averaged just more than 42 rushing yards per game and had a total of nine rushing touchdowns in eight games.
With Harpring moving to free safety, there is no question who the starter will be when the Thunderhawks’ open the season at home against Western Hills Aug. 24.
“Last year I didn’t get most of the snaps, but this year I am getting a lot more reps and it definitely helps a lot,” Eichler said. “I feel much more comfortable with the offense.”
Eichler’s comfort level could also mean that the Thunderhawks could run more plays out of the shotgun formation. It could also mean more passing plays for a program that totaled only 344 passing yards last fall.
“I expect Eric to have a very, very good season,” Haynes said.
“We will throw it around a little bit because he is a very, very smart player. I think he has a lot of moxie and I think he will make good decisions.”
The junior quarterback will also have a lot of familiar weapons in senior running backs Will Mahone (542 rushing yards and 5 total touchdowns in ’11) and Chamada Palmore (196 rushing yards in ’11), as well as junior running backs Bobby Brown (127 yards in one game last year) and Nate Mays (143 rushing yards on eight carries in ’11).
Eichler’s top two receiving targets senior Issac Cosculluela (15 rec. for 139 yards in ’11) and Mahone (10 rec. 153 yards) are also back.
With all those weapons, Eichler and his teammates hope to rebound from last season’s 4-6 record (2-5 in the Greater Miami Conference).
“We didn’t finish off the season as well as wanted to last year,” Eichler said. “We are just going to have to grind it out. It is only 10 games, so we should do better than we did last year.”