Geoff ODonnell set the bar high in his first year as the SouthLake Christian head football coach, taking his team to the NCISAA Division III state championship game.While the Eagles (11-2 last year) could almost taste victory in the title game, they fell just short, as Victory Christian scored with 38 seconds left to win it all, 26-21.The Eagles will have to prove they can do it all again in 2013 after losing 12 starters, including all-state players like quarterback Randy Schroeder and wide receiver Demetri Allison. ODonnell says they will have to take it step at a time.Every year is a new team, said ODonnell, who was the Eagles offensive coordinator in 2010 and 2011 when they made it the NCISAA Division II state semifinals. What weve done in the past really doesnt matter for this team. We arent entitled to anything. Right now, we are just concentrating on winning the day. If we can do that, we feel like we will be right where we want to be at the end of the season.That effort all starts with an offense that will have to reload, after averaging 44 points and 537 yards of total offense per game last year.While ODonnell likes to throw the ball early and often, he says the SouthLake Christian offense will be a little more blue-collar and not as flashy this year, focusing on the run game a little more.Sophomore tailback Robert Washington will figure heavily into that equation as he rushed for 1,017 yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman, averaging more than 11 yards per carry.Washington, who has committed to Mississippi State (but is still on the radar of multiple D-I teams), has the size (5-foot-10, 192 pounds) to take on more of a load and will do so, according to ODonnell. Washington will get help from another promising freshman in Tarus Dameron (5-10, 220).While ODonnells offense will be a bit more conservative, he passes the reigns from Schroeder to Oakbrook Prep Academy transfer Luke Lancaster (6-4, 190), who has the physical tools to succeed but must get used to the offense.Lancaster will have multiple options when he goes to the air, including wideouts junior D.J. Wilson, sophomores Conner ODonnell (Geoffs son, also a Mississippi State commit), Will Eason and Riley Zayicek and freshman Eric Gallman.While the Eagle offense will look for new standout, skill options to emerge, the offensive line will also be a huge key in moving the ball.Junior center Chris Lutzel (5-11, 220) will lead a smaller, but technically sound group that also includes tackles Blake Queen (6-2, 235) and Garren Hatley as well Jack Fording (6-0, 215) and Sam Murphy (6-1, 230).We dont have the 6-foot-5, 300-pound-type of guys, said Lutzel, who is a standout long-snapper and was invited to camps at Alabama, Auburn, Duke, N.C. State and Oregon this summer. But we work very hard and are in the weight room together every day. We focus on technique, technique, technique; that is our advantage.While the high-powered Eagle offense garnered a lot of the headlines last year, the SouthLake Christian defense was just as impressive, allowing a little more than seven points per game.Like the offense, the Eagle defense will have to reload, with all-state performers like defensive end Kenny Bumgarner and linebacker Brian Jones having graduated. But they have some strong pieces to do so.The most interesting prospects could be two transfers in junior linebackers Grant Bushinski (from Hough High) and Jalen Nash (from East Gaston High). Bushinski (6-1, 220) and Jalen Nash (6-3, 240) both have the size to be able to be dominant at times and should gel with Fording and sophomore Zack Dudan to form a nice unit.The defensive will feature Hatley, Murphy and Queen, who will have to go both ways, while Nash could also play some defensive end.The Eagle secondary also must retool with Andre Diouf and Allison gone, but the have Eason and freshman Aapri Washington (Roberts cousin) at corner and Jake Hatfield likely at the strong safety spot.Overall, ODonnell says, his younger team, will have to find its identity again, but he expects to do well.We expect to win, and that confidence has come from a lot of hard work, ODonnell said. But were not going to be shocked when teams fight back, and I think we were (shocked) at times last year.After going a combined 29-9 in the last three seasons, its only natural to project the Eagles as a state contender again in 2013, but their focus is in the now.We havent even talked about a state championship this summer, Lutzel said. We are focused on staying in the present moment. Hopefully that will take where we want to go.
Monday, Jul. 15, 2013
NCISAA: SouthLake Christian Eagles look to win the day
SouthLake Christian Coach: Geoff O’Donnell (2nd Year, 11-2 career) 2012 record: 11-2, 3-1 Starters Returning: 10 (5 offense, 5 defense) Key players: RB Robert Washington, So.: Mississippi State commit looks to carry a bigger load after rushing for 1,017 yards and 11 touchdowns on 89 carries as a freshman. LB Jalen Nash, Jr.: At 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, East Gaston transfer (All-MEGA 7 conference) could be a major force for Eagles’ defense.
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer for the Lake Norman News. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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