To see where the Lakeside Chiefs are going, you have to know where they’ve been.
Second-year head coach Josh McConnell talks about “changing the culture” in the program, and notes that Lakeside’s 2019 season took the first steps in doing just that despite a 2-8 record.
“To be honest, we struggled last year. We struggled when I first took the job,” McConnell said. “We had a meeting and there were 10 people there. I couldn’t blame them. Our senior class last year had five head coaches since there were in seventh grade. I got it.
“We coached football last year with two coaches – me and (offensive coordinator) Britt Martin. We got after it and we’re trying to invest in these kids’ lives. They started to buy in. The first workouts last year we had nine show up. This year we had 24, which I thought was huge.
“They’ve worked their tails off and it’s not anything other than they want to be better than they were last year. They’re trying to create a legacy. They’re showing up when we’re not there. It’s been very, very, very positive.”
Five starters are back on both offense and defense. The team’s strength, the coach said, will need to be the offensive line, where three of those starters – seniors Cole Parker and Liston Corcoran and junior Jackson Etheridge – return.
“Jackson, him and Cole are going to be what makes us tick up front,” McConnell said. “Jackson has a lot of upside, a lot of potential. He’s got good size (6-3, 305), but he has phenomenal feet. He has a chance to play college football somewhere. He’s going to be really big in what we’re doing.
“And Cole (6-2, 255), same thing. He’s not as big (as Etheridge), but I think he has a chance to play on the next level if he continues to progress. I think he has that ability. He’s a senior and he’s one of those that bought into what we’re doing since Day 1 and is trying to change the culture. We’re extremely proud of the work he’s put in this summer.”
The depth of skill position players took a hit when several players transferred.
“We’re going to have to be out of the box, out of the ordinary, offensively, but when you lose three kids that you were counting on you’ve got to be adaptable,” he said. “We’ll be fine. You’ve got to keep plugging alone, keep doing what we’re doing.
“I really believe in what we’re doing, what we’re trying to build. That’s been a big thing for me. We’re trying to reestablish that culture. The good thing was our seniors last year bought into that culture and started to change it. We’ve still got a lot of work ahead, but we’re trying to head in the right direction.”
Junior Willis Jackson will have the ball in his hands a lot, either at running back or quarterback.
“He’s going to be the guy for us. It’s tough when you lose one of your key cogs and would have been the wheels of the bus, but such is life,” McConnell said. “Willis is very capable. He started for us last year at inside linebacker and tore his ACL toward the end of the year. He ran the ball some for us, too.
“He’ll have a much bigger role on the offensive side. He’s going to carry the load, pretty much. We’re not real deep, but we’ve got a few at the running back position that will be able to spell him and help him.”
As far as Jackson playing quarterback, the coach said, “Yeah, he can do it. Trust me, he’s not dropping back and throwing the ball 35 times a game. It ain’t happening. With what we’re doing, he’ll be efficient enough.
“We have a ninth-grader that can do it a little bit. We’ve got a kid in that plays running back/fullback that can do it a little bit. This isn’t throw it all over the lot. We’re going to try to run the ball down your throat and see what happens.”
Senior Chris Martin, a returning starter at tight end, also will have a much larger role on offense. The coach shakes his head when he talks about Martin.
“I didn’t get into the business necessarily to win games. That’s a byproduct of what we do. I got in this business to try to change kids’ lives. I’ll get emotional with that one,” McConnell said. “He’s a guy that it hasn’t been easy for him. Watching him transform over the last year and a half into a leader of not just our football program, but a leader in our school, it’s why I do what I do. It’s a testament to him.”
McConnell said Martin last season played on the offensive line, forced into that spot due to injuries on the team.
“He’s not an offensive lineman, really, but he’s one that just does whatever you ask him to do,” the coach said. “He’s going to be a valuable part to our offense. We haven’t figured out where we’re going to play him yet. We’ve got a couple guys that have injuries that we didn’t know about that had nothing to do with football. We’re trying to figure that part out.
“Having somebody flexible, he can play center, he can play guard, he can play tight end, he can play fullback. He can play anywhere. He’s the third-fastest kid on our team. He’s athletic. He’s a calf roper, for real – and he’s good at it.”
Martin will also be “the key cog” defensively for the Chiefs at outside linebacker.
“Last year, he was feeling his way,” McConnell said. “This year he’s the leader and they follow him. This is my 13th year in coaching. The transformation has been unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This is why I do what I do. If I can teach them anything that makes them be a better father, a better husband, I win. I don’t care what the scoreboard says.”
Etheridge and Parker return to the defensive line. Jackson will play linebacker and Jeremiah Bowick returns to play outside linebacker opposite Martin.
“He played inside linebacker last year out of necessity,” McConnell said of the 5-9, 190-pound Bowick. “He’s not an inside linebacker, but with injury he had to step in. He’ll be an outside linebacker this year. He’ll be a key part to the offense, too.
“He is a phenomenal human being. Really, we’re blessed to have phenomenal kids here.”
Two newcomers, Scout Kirkland and Darian Smith, are two big additions, the coach said.
“Scout’s an 11th grader and Darian’s a senior. They’ll help us on both sides of the ball,” McConnell said. “They don’t have a lot of experience. The current situation where we’re at, we’ve got to coach the heck out of them and they can help us.”
Lakeside dropped to Class A in the AISA.
“Last year we were AA and we opened up with the three largest schools in the AISA – Glenwood, Northside Methodist and Tuscaloosa (Academy),” the coach said. “We also played Autauga, Edgewood, Crenshaw and we beat Pike.
“Of the nine games we played, I think six of them made it to the second or third round of the playoffs. We were playing way above where we should have been playing. This year, we’re playing in the class we’re supposed to be playing in with around 20 kids.”
He said staying healthy will be crucial this season.
“At the end of the day, if you give us 15 or you give us 55, the goal is still the same – to make them better people. It doesn’t matter about everything else,” he said.
CHIEFS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Josh McConnell (2nd year at Lakeside and as a head coach, 2-8)
>> 2019 record: 2-8 overall, 0-3 in AISA, Class AA, Region 1, first round of Class AA state playoffs
>> 2019 results: at Glenwood (L, 0-35); Northside Methodist (L, 26-44); at Tuscaloosa Aca. (L, 12-55); Abbeville Christian (W, 38-15); Crenshaw Christian (L, 0-38); Autauga Academy # (L, 20-60); Edgewood # (L, 28-35); at Springwood # (L, 33-56); at Pike Liberal Arts (W, 35-34); STATE PLAYOFFS: at Escambia Academy (L, 0-49)
>> Points scored/per game: 192/19.2
>> Points allowed/per game: 421/42.1
>> Returning offensive starters (5): OL Cole Parker (Sr., 6-2, 255); OL Jackson Etheridge (Jr., 6-3, 305); OL Liston Corcoran (Sr., 5-10, 220); TE Chris Martin (Sr., 6-2, 205); RB Willis Jackson (Jr., 5-9, 195)
>> Returning defensive starters (5): DL Jackson Etheridge (Jr., 6-3, 305): DL Cole Parker (Sr., 6-2, 255); OLB Chris Martin (Sr., 6-2, 205); LB Willis Jackson (Jr., 5-10, 195); OLB Jeremiah Bowick (Sr., 5-9, 190)
Aug. 21—Valiant Cross L, 21-16
Aug. 28 -- Open
Sept. 4 -- at Cornerstone Christian #
Sept. 11 -- Coosa Valley Academy #
Sept. 18 -- at Meadowview Christian
Sept. 25 -- at Crenshaw Christian #
Oct. 2 -- Edgewood Academy
Oct. 9 -- at Lowndes Academy #
Oct. 16 -- Banks Academy
Oct. 23 -- Abbeville Christian #
Oct. 29 (Thursday) -- at Springwood
# Denotes region games
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