Last fall, the McKinney High football team failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007. In Jeff Smith’s second year as head coach of the Lions, MHS will not only reach the postseason but the Lions will do something they haven’t done since 2004 – finish above the .500 mark. Back in ’04, McKinney was celebrating the 25th anniversary of its first and only state championship in 1979 under legendary head coach Ron Poe. MHS’ motto for the season was ‘Answer the Call’ and the Lions lived up to their preseason expectations as they finished the year with an 8-3 record, including a trip to the playoffs and a second-place finish in District 9-4A. The two seasons that followed were far less exciting, however, as McKinney finished with records of 3-7 and 4-6.
After the Todd McVey era ended in 2006, Richardson Pearce’s Bobby Reyes was hired to turn the team around and although the Lions would make the postseason in back-to-back years, the program never really “turned around”. For all the great athletes that passed through McKinney High from 2007-2009, Reyes’ teams never really made the most of their talent as both playoff runs ended in first round losses and the team never won more than four games in a single season. Zach Lee was the greatest pure quarterback to ever don a Lions uniform and although his individual statistics during his three-year run were phenomenal, the Reyes era will be most remembered for featuring the worst defense in school history. While the Lions offense was shattering school records, their defense was helping opposing schools break records of their own.
It was Reyes’ one-dimensional coaching philosophy that kept MHS from achieving true greatness and when Lee graduated in 2009, Reyes went with him concluding his three-year stint as head coach.
In the winter of 2010, the Lions hired the young, defensive-minded Jeff Smith out of Lake Highlands. Smith served as defensive coordinator for the Wildcats before coming to McKinney High. Smith’s impact on the Lions’ defense was apparent in the first game of the season as the Lions did something they had failed to do in three years – wrap up.
McKinney High would go on to finish with a record of 4-6 but this time it wasn’t good enough for a playoff berth. And as fate would have it, the Lions’ season would once again end in a loss to Highland Park.
When I first sat down to write this column, it was originally titled ‘5 Reasons MHS Will Make Playoffs’. But the thing McKinney High needs more than another playoff run is to win at least five games in a single season for the first time in seven years.
This will be the year MHS gets both and here is why.
5. The Lions Had Great Spring Football Practices
In order to have success in the fall, this group of Lions absolutely needed to have great spring football practices. On day one, they were forced to workout indoors due to rain and even without a full football field to practice, they continued with business as usual and got things off to a great start. The following week, the Lions began to see their future fall playmakers emerge as offensive and defensive coaches started to add more schemes into practice. Spring football concluded with an intersquad game that pitted the offense versus the defense and the result was a showcase of varsity standouts mixed with junior varsity players looking to break into the varsity lineup. Head coach Jeff Smith said he felt his team was ready to play a varsity game already. As someone who simply watched in the stands, I actually felt the same way about this group. They looked like a team that didn’t want to wait for August anymore and with spring football out of the way, the Lions have got to be excited to know that all the stands between them and Frisco High is the summer.
4. 2010 Season Ended With Motivational Loss
McKinney High won four games last season, including three district victories but the Lions greatest performance of the year was quite possibly its season finale game against Highland Park. With their playoff hopes on the line, the Lions took the Scots to the limit for four solid quarters before HP pulled away in the final minutes. The loss gave the Lions the fuel necessary to give their best effort during the offseason and the experience of the game gave them the confidence to know that they can contend with any team in the district when they play up to their potential. When the game was over, the Lions were very emotional as they were forced to hang it up after 10 games. For the senior players, it was their moment to reflect on the previous four years. But for the underclassmen, it was a moment to remind themselves that they still had work to do and it will continue this fall.
3. Defense Will Continue To Get Better
In 2009, the Lions defense gave up an average of 41 points per game, including three outings in which the opposition totaled more than 70 points. In Smith’s first year with the Lions, the MHS defense took its first big step toward improvement as it surrendered an average of 30 points per game. While that number didn’t rank the Lions defense among the area’s best, there was a noticeable change in defensive intensity and that will only continue to improve this fall as the Lions defense will further distance itself from the embarrassment that was the Reyes era.
2. Junior Quarterback Robert Somborn Has A Full Season Of Experience Under His Belt
I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t think Robert Somborn got enough credit for what he did last fall as a sophomore, especially given the fact that he was the follow up quarterback to the greatest QB in Lions history. Somborn not only proved that he could manage the offense effectively with his passing but he also demonstrated great scrambling ability as he rushed for nearly 300 yards and scored five touchdowns. After out performing senior Hobie Harris, Somborn was awarded the starting quarterback position and through 10 games he completed 99-of-186 passes for 1,372 yards and 14 touchdowns. Throughout the season, Smith was impressed with his young QB’s progression and he said he’s gotten even better in the spring despite battling an injury during offseason. Look for Somborn to have a breakout junior year this fall as he will have plenty of targets at receiver and out of the backfield.
1. Team Chemistry
The most underrated element of high school athletics is team chemistry and this group of Lions has it in spades. From the coaches to the players, it’s rare to see a program that is as close-knit as MHS. In one year, Smith has been able to bring the program together and it will certainly pay dividends this fall. McKinney High lost a lot of close games last season and I believe that part of the reason is that the Lions were still in adjustment mode to their new coaches and new responsibilities on the football field.
For now, I’m not going to say how many games I think the Lions will win but I will say that it will be no less than five. This team is motivated, passionate, talented, and they’ve got momentum. Sounds like a recipe for success.
-Joe Arriola, TownSquareBuzz.com