By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Writer
For the McKinney High School football team, 2011 was much more than just a 0-10 record. While it could be perceived as rock bottom for a very proud Texas high school football program, last season serves as a constant source of motivation for the 2012 Lions, who wrapped up the spring football season with the Blue vs. Gold Spring Game at MHS Field on Thursday night.
After battling through one of the most difficult campaigns in school history, MHS and head coach Jeff Smith are ready to get back to work and prove why 2011 was merely a mirage for the Lions.
“I think that as tough as last year was there was a lot of lessons learned from the kids, and if anything it makes them real hungry about this year and they pay a lot more attention to details, realizing that we’ve got to do things perfect,” says Smith.
While the Lions did fall on the wrong end of some lopsided scores, MHS also lost by 10 points or less in four of the 10 games last season, indicative of just how many games the Lions couldn’t hold onto the lead late or couldn’t make the big play when they needed to. In 2012, Smith believes for MHS to get back to its winning ways his team must continue to mature and learn how to play for all four quarters.
“Last year with the exception of a couple, we were in every game and just didn’t finish those games,” Smith said. “So we’ve got to finish a lot better this year as a football team and I think some of our youth last year factored into that, and with a more mature football team we are excited about the days ahead and what we are going to bring from those experiences last year.”
That’s what they brought into the spring, which ended Thursday night at the MHS auxiliary field with an intrasquad game that featured the offense vs. defense. In the Lions’ scoring system, the offense won the matchup, 21-14. Red Shannon scored a touchdown on both sides of the ball, providing the top individual highlights.
“We stayed injury free which is always a big goal during spring football,” said Smith when asked about his impressions of the game. “After a full spring we feel like we are game ready. Obviously we will add more in the fall when we get back started, but I feel like we have a great base now and had some great surprises from some kids who stepped up, so it was a great spring.”
Shannon, who is a two-way player for the Lions, will be key for the team next fall in his ability to make plays with the ball from the “H” back position in the offense. While he will often times line up in the slot, Smith intends to use a lot of two-back looks in the backfield to capitlize on Shannon’s playmaking abilities.
“He is just such a great player,” said Smith. “He makes things happen when he gets the ball and we are going to try and give him the ball and keep doing a good job blocking for him. We are hoping for an even better year from him.”
One of the most exciting factors about the Lions this spring season was the competition taking place at almost every position. While MHS is returning several lettermen from a year ago, there are several incoming juniors and even a couple sophomores that are pushing the seniors for spots during the practices this past month.
“We have a lot of returning lettermen from last year’s team, which is exciting and provides a lot of maturity and a lot of experience and understanding to what we want as coaches,” says Smith. “In that aspect we are very excited for the kids we have coming back and the leadership we have returning.
“Competition makes everything better and that’s something we will have this year more than we had last year. We have competition at every position and we don’t make those final decisions until right before we kick the season off, but we certainly have some good battles going on for positions.”
But while expectations around the program may be high, the fact remains that the Lions find themselves in a brand new district and no longer in class 4A. They are joining the big boys in class 5A and battling alongside schools such as Allen, Plano West, and crosstown rival McKinney Boyd. When asked if this district excited or scared his players going into next year, Smith says that his boys can’t wait to compete in arguably the best district in Texas.
“Absolutely. There’s no doubt that this is one of the best districts in the state. I felt like we came from a very good district that played good football as well, and I think it prepared us well,” says Smith. “The big difference is just the size of the school and the numbers of the kids, so as we move into this district obviously we are playing some great schools in Allen, Plano, and McKinney Boyd, but our kids are excited about the challenge and the opportunity and it’s going to be a great experience.”
Now that all 18 practices and the spring game are complete, Smith says that there is one thing that is most important for his group of guys to understand before the break camp for summer.
“I think at the end of the day, the most important thing we’ve got to do is be a team. I don’t want to sound cliché but we’ve got to be gelling as a team, as guys that respect one another and play well and know our roles,” says Smith. “That’s not done just through spring but also through fall, but you can run all kinds of offenses and all kinds of defenses, but when it all comes down to it, the kids have got to play well together and enjoy playing together.”
MHS opens on the road versus Mansfield Legacy on August 31st. Game time is 7:30 p.m. The first home game for the Lions is a week later on September 6th when MHS hosts Frisco Heritage at Ron Poe Stadium.
Photos of MHS spring football game by Dan Jarvis