TRAINING DAYS: Defense could fuel Red Lion to crown
- Red Lion is coming off a year in which its defense ranked in top-5 of most statistical categories.
- The Lions allowed just 15.4 points against in 2015, good for third in the Y-a League.
- Most of the Lions' starters will play on both sides of the ball in 2016.
This week, The York Dispatch is following the Red Lion football team through its first four days of practices, film sessions and strength-and-conditioning workouts as part of a series called "Training Days." Following is the fourth-and-final installment of the series.
RED LION — Thursday after practice, Red Lion head football coach Jesse Shay revealed to his team the motto that will be printed on the back of the team undershirts this year: "Finish."
The last two years, the Lions have put themselves into position to grab the York-Adams League Division I title as a dark-horse contender. Yet, each of the last two seasons, slip ups at one point or another throughout the year prohibited Red Lion from winning the division. Instead the Lions settled for for second.
This year, Shay won't accept that, not with a team blessed with a lot of senior talent and experience, despite some key losses from a year ago. As is the case with most schools in the league and around the mid-state, those losses are felt on both sides of the ball, because most of the Lion starters play both offense and defense.
Defense wins championships: A year ago, the Lions ranked in the top five of several key offensive and defensive statistical categories in the league and will need to be on a similar level this year. More important than how its offense clicks, however, is how well the defense comes together. It's perhaps the side of the ball that could determine just how high the ceiling could be for Red Lion.
"I think we have a lot of potential, but the old coach saying is, 'potential isn't anything if you don't work hard,'" defensive coordinator J.D. Granger said. "That's what we're doing so far in camp this week. We're going to work hard as hard as we can and let the pieces fall as they will."
On Thursday, the Lions had their afternoon practice moved from outside to the high school's two gyms because of a looming thunderstorm and a heat index that exceeded 105 degrees. Fortunately, with the move indoors, Red Lion got to go through its workouts with pads on. The players didn't let the change in environment hamper their work ethic.
Granger is blessed with a defense that is returning the majority of its defensive line, as well as an athletic group of linebackers and defensive backs who play both sides of the ball. Because of that, those players understand what they're trying to defend, because, when they're on offense, they're the ones trying to get past the defense.
"As an offensive lineman, you know what you're looking for when you're playing defense and that offensive lineman is trying to move you," Shay said. "Our middle linebacker and outside linebacker are both fullbacks, so they know what they're looking at in the backfield. And, actually, the biggest benefit comes from the defensive backfield because they're all wide receivers, so they know how to set up a move. Is it more difficult? Sure, because you're playing both ways. But, I think the mental aspect certainly makes up for any detriment you have physically of playing both ways."
Great potential: Senior wide receiver and cornerback Paul Jones has been anxiously awaiting his chance to play with the first-team defense. He's one of several seniors who will be expected to step up his role from a year ago, especially if the Lions want to finish the job. This year's defense has a lot to live up to if it wants to be the unit that helps Red Lion win a division title. Last year's group allowed just 15.4 points per game.
Jones and the rest of the first-team defense realizes that and that is primarily why this year's group is so excited about what could be in the future.
"That's the question that gets me excited," he said when asked about the group's potential. "We're deep and we have a lot of talent, a lot of old talent that's been here for two, three years, four years if you're (standout lineman) Nick Argento. This is my first year starting, but I'm just so excited because we're so deep and have that potential up front as well."
Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.