Three seasons ago, Rich Landis and the SouthLake Christian football team seemed to be on the verge of something big. After going 9-3 overall, winning the Carolina Piedmont conference, SouthLake got to the NCISAA 2A state semifinals in only their third year as an 11-man football program.
But after two subpar seasons in which the Eagles went 6-14, including 1-11 in conference play, SouthLake is looking to return to championship form this season.
"A lot of our players remember that 2007 team, and they are hungry to get back to that level of success," said SouthLake Christian football coach Rich Landis, who has coached the Eagles for all eight years of the program's existence.
"The last two years, we have spent a lot of time building the team back up. Now, we are ready to be a contender."
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That process all begins this week as the Eagles begin camp at Blue Ridge Assembly, a YMCA facility near Asheville. Landis and company get to take the team there, where they focus on only one thing: football.
"Going to (Asheville) gives us an opportunity to hold the boys captive for a week, and get a lot accomplished," said Landis. "It also allows us to practice in a place that is 10-15 degrees cooler, which makes a big difference."
Landis hopes moving senior Sam Remick from running back to quarterback will also make a big difference, as the Eagles' top offensive threat takes the reins of the offense full-time for the first time since middle school.
Remick should be a major dual threat as SouthLake Christian lines up in four or five different formations in most games.
Remick will have a dangerous weapon in receiver Travis Hallman on most plays. Hallman hauled 61 passes a year ago and hopes for even more success in 2010. Sophomore Demetri Allison should also be a threat in the passing game.
Running back is a different story where juniors Ashton Stroud and Adam Gilkerson will try to make up for the move of Remick to quarterback. Stroud gained some experience last year as a part-time starter after Remick was injured.
The offensive line should give both the passing and running game steam as three starters return including Stephen Bolton, Josh Furrow and Charles Hazzard.
"I think our offense has a chance to score a lot of points," said Landis. "We think we have several players who have the potential to be great."
On defense, SouthLake will have to get better, after allowing nearly 34 points per game.
Hazzard will lead a three-man defensive line as the Eagles move into a 3-5 front for the first time ever.
The linebacking corps should be the strength of the unit as Hallman (118 tackles last year), Remick, Gilkerson, Spencer Cole and Taylor Jurney make up a formidable group.
Sophomores Allison and cornerback Andre Diouf, who started a freshman, will lead the secondary.
No matter who plays in what position, SouthLake will have more depth on both sides of the ball as the roster grows from 29 to 43 players.
But SouthLake will need the additional depth as they must play an 11-game schedule with no byes as High Point Christian joins the conference.
SouthLake hopes to be a factor in the conference and in the playoff picture for the first time since 2007.
"We're definitely a more seasoned team this year, with a lot more experience," said Landis. "We think that will give a chance to contend for a conference title and get back in the playoffs. We feel very good about this season."