By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Writer
In 2008, the Detroit Lions became the first team in NFL history to finish a season 0-16. When the following offseason began, media members asked the returning players how they tried to forget the nightmare campaign from a year ago. They said the organization reorganized the locker room, took down old paintings and put up new ones, and tried to take the memories from a year ago and throw them out the window.
However, every player knew deep down that they couldn’t just toss those experiences away. The Lions had to take all the negativity from a year ago and use it as a starting point for the following season.
After spending a day at McKinney High’s preseason camp, it is clear that another football team called the Lions may be taking the same approach in 2012.
MHS finished a miserable 2011 season 0-10. Facing some of the best competition at the class 4A level like Highland Park and Rockwall Heath, the Lions gave up nearly 43 points per game on defense while only scoring about 28 points per game. While the team did suffer some blowouts along the way, MHS did have four games in which it lost by 10 points or less, including a heartbreaking defeat to Richardson Pearce, 38-37, on a touchdown in the final minute.
So after an entire offseason filled with Performance Course workouts, 7-on-7 games and lots of conditioning, MHS head coach Jeff Smith and the rest of the Lions took the practice field on Monday for the first time this fall on the quest for one goal: win a game.
“I think our team is focused purely on game one,” said Smith. “Would we love to win a district championship? You bet. Would we love to make the playoffs? Absolutely. Those are two of our goals without doubt, but for use after a tough year in not winning a game, we want to go out and win a game.”
The third-year coach understands the challenges ahead for his football team, but when asked to reflect on last year, Smith understands how important it was for those younger players to get valuable playing experience. Guys like junior wide receiver T.V. Williams, who caught 23 passes for 365 yards and 4 touchdowns, and senior athlete Red Shannon, who accounted for almost 1,200 yards through the air and ground, were able to establish themselves as key components in the high-flying Lion offense.
However, the greatest use of the experience may fall on senior quarterback Robert Somborn’s shoulders. Somborn, the 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound signal caller, finished his second year of varsity experience throwing for 2,245 yards and 24 touchdowns. While the stats didn’t convert to wins on the scoreboard for the Lions, Somborn doesn’t take for granted how important last season was for him and his football team.
“Last year the main thing I took away was just the experience that I got,” said Somborn before Tuesday’s practice. “A year ago we played some really good defenses and we got to throw a lot more which really opened up our passing game. So I think last year was a really good developing year for not only me as the quarterback but the receivers as we got our timing together a lot better.”
“We’ve been really hard on Robert this year,” said Smith. “This is his third year starting for us on the varsity level, and Robert just isn’t a good player because of his arm or his athletic abilities. He is also a leader, a very good student, and a great student of the game. He takes coaching very well and makes those adjustments. You can probably label him a perfectionist.
“We need him to be the best he can be, and Robert is excited for fulfilling that role like he has the last couple of years at the quarterback position. Robert wants more than anything for this offense and this team overall to be successful.”
Offensively you can expect another aerial attack from the Lions in 2012, with Williams, Shannon, and senior receiver Connor Fuentes being three key targets for Somborn. However, Smith would like to establish more of a running game this fall to take some of the pressure off of his quarterback. That means that junior running back Tommy Candela, will be asked to be a valuable weapon on the ground for MHS as they hope the threat of a run game will open up deeper pass plays down the field.
On defense, the Lions have two players with a ton of experience on the field that will be important to the potential improvement of the entire unit. Senior linebacker Matt Reynolds and defensive tackle Troy Taylor hope to improve on their outstanding 2011 seasons and help some of the younger kids improve along the way. While Smith and the defensive coaching staff know that they have two established playmakers in Reynolds and Taylor, they are going to be anxious to see how players like cornerback Jumaane Ross-Brown and defensive end Kennan Samuel contribute against some of the bigger name offenses in Texas high school football.
When asked about what needs to improve the most to be more successful this season, Reynolds believes consistency is by far the most important thing.
“We just have to be more consistent because we would go out in some games and be winning at halftime, but we would just drop off quickly,” he said. “So if we could just be more consistent we will get a bunch of wins this year. We are going to try and be more physical. We are going to be relying on speed a lot this year because we have some really fast kids coming up who are going to be starting now.”
Some analysts believe the Lions took another loss this offseason after the UIL re-districting this past spring. After numerous years at the class 4A level, MHS joins fellow MISD School McKinney Boyd in District 10-5A, along with Allen, Plano East, Plano, and Plano West. Many high school football magazines and websites have the Lions finishing last in the district. Some say that the Lions are going to be intimidated by the talent in 5A. But if you ask any of those players wearing blue and gold uniforms or even watch five minutes of practice, you don’t see a team that is scared of anyone but rather a group of men ready to take on a daunting challenge.
“I think they are excited,” said Smith. “Our kids are excited about the stage and to be playing in some really cool stadiums and against some great programs. Whenever you play teams like that, you have to raise your game another level and that’s obviously what we’ve been talking about since offseason.”
In fact, Smith and the Lions see the only true difference between 4A and 5A being the number of players available on the sideline and not the talent on the field. After playing Highland Park, Wylie, and Rockwall Heath, it is hard to argue with that assessment.
“We’ve been playing good people,” said Smith. “Not that 5A are good people but the difference between 4A and 5A is not real big, it’s really just a numbers game. Depth is the big thing.”
“Well, last year we were in a 4A district but we were in a really tough district,” said Somborn. “We were with schools like Highland Park and Rockwall Heath that were really big teams with really big guys, so I think the main difference for 5A is that we be in good shape and keep going throughout the whole game. The difference between the two classes is that there are 5,000 kids at Allen and there’s 2,000 here, so they just have more depth to keep going.”
So just like the 2009 Detroit Lions, the 2012 McKinney Lions are working hard every practice and looking ahead to one game and one game only: August 31st at Mansfield Legacy High School.
“We are going to start out week one versus Mansfield Legacy in zero-week and play our tails off and win a football game,” said Smith. “You obviously break up the season into non-district, district, and the playoffs, so our first goal is to have a successful non-district schedule.”
After months of waiting for the chance to wash away the stain of last year and continue the re-building process, Smith and his players know that when it comes right down to it, being able to play home games on Friday nights at Ron Poe Stadium is the most exciting part of the whole journey.
“Yeah when you finish up the fall season and its November, it’s a long time where your not playing games,” Smith said. “So once you finish that season up, you kind of start that rebuilding process and beginning a new team in a new year.
“But there’s nothing like Friday nights in Texas and that’s what our kids love. They love playing in the games in front of their families and their community, so we are all very excited.”
Quote of the Camp:“I need to work on just keeping a level head throughout the entire game. I mean that’s what I’ve worked on my whole life. I need to work on decision-making, of course. You always need to work on that. Also just knowing where to go with that ball on every play. That’s important too.”
– Robert Somborn, regarding what he needs to improve on individually for the upcoming season.
Mike’s 3 Observations From Lion Camp:
1. Early on during offense skill position drills, the Lions receivers were having some difficulties catching the football. After Coach Smith gave the boys a nice, “gentle” pep talk, the kids responded well and had a nice finish to the drill.
2. Robert Somborn will play college football somewhere next year. The kid throws a tremendous ball and he does a great job of leading receivers. One of the most overlooked abilities in a QB can be footwork, but Somborn does an incredible job of moving around in the pocket and stays balanced when he releases the ball. Scouts will have their eye on #4.
3. The Lions will likely never be the biggest team on the field this season, especially come district play, but boy will they have some speed. Time will tell just how many wins MHS gets this fall, but they are going to be a very fun team to watch.
2012 McKinney High Schedule
@ Mansfield Legacy – August 31st
vs. Frisco Heritage – September 6th
@ Irving Nimitz – September 14th
@ North Garland – September 21st
vs. Denton Ryan – September 28th
@ Plano – October 12th
vs. Plano East – October 18th
@ Plano West – October 26th
vs. Allen – November 2nd
@ McKinney Boyd – November 9th
Bold represents District 10-5A games. All games begin at 7:30 p.m. Home games are at Ron Poe Stadium.
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series. If you missed part 1 on McKinney Boyd, please click here to see it. And check back for a team preview on McKinney North this weekend on TSB!