By Mac McLeod,
For the past three seasons at Livingston Academy, the Wildcats football team has been striving at times and struggling at other times to put together a solid season and a sound trip to the playoffs.
This time around, there are no excuses, reasons, or denials, with 11 returning seniors that have played together not only for the past three seasons but several years at Outlaws and three at Junior Wildcats.
This is a well experienced group.
“We have no excuses, none,” senior quarterback Will McDonald flatly stated several weeks back, and his head coach, Bruce Lamb, reaffirmed a few days later, “We are a well experienced team that has played together for a long time. If we can avoid injures, I think we’ll be good.”
After practice last week, the seniors got together to talk about this year’s team and its potential.
“Experience is one thing,” preseason All-State senior Cole Spears stated, “but this time around, I think you will see there’s much more maturity and definitely more leadership. If I could sum up this group of seniors in one word, it would be ‘leadership’ .”
Lineman Donnie Phillips backed up the statement and added that, “We look back and think how long we’ve been playing together and what could have or should have been done and now we’re into our last season here and we want it to be a good one.
“And I think it will, “ Phillips continued. “Every senior here knows his job, and now we’re facing our final season with a true desire to be good. We have good players and we have good coaches, and like Will said earlier, if we can avoid critical injuries, we should be good.”
When this years’ seniors entered LA as freshmen, it was kind of decided at that time that the Wildcats would start a rebuilding program.The first season was a weak one and the team posted only two wins and eight losses. The next season was much better at 8-3, but last year, a 5-6 mark left a lot of questions of just how good this team really was.
“We can’t say it had anything to do with pressure,” wide receiver and defensive back Aubrey Hollars explained. “We all played as hard as we could, but mistakes, missed tackles, missed blocks, etc. kept us kinda going backwards, and we just never got to the point we always felt like we should have been.
“This time I think it will come together.”
When the Cats take the field for the first time this Friday night, they will boast three pre-season All-State players in Spears, McDonald, and Wesley Smith. Few other 4AAAA teams can make such a boast.
“That’s kinda cool,” the soft spoken Smith smiled, “but being named to a team is one thing, living up to that mark is another. We have got to make things happen. We have 11 returning seniors on this team. We’ve been together a long time and now, with a break here or there, we should produce.”
McDonald will be making his fourth year as starting quarterback, and his confidence is evident.
“I know our potential and I know the players. It’s here, we just have to make sure we play to our potential,” he said. “We had a good spring practice, and several of us have been to good summer camps.
“And like what some of the others have said, leadership is going to be a real key factor this year. When we were freshmen or sophomores, and even as juniors last year, we made way too many mistakes that really affected our record. Now all of that is in the past. There are enough experienced seniors to take the leadership role and make this thing work like it should.”
McDonald has been going to quarterback camps for most of his high school career while kickers Tee Beaty and Joseph Dees are a little new at the experience, but stated that those camps will help.
“Coach (Mark) Winningham has worked with me punting,” Dees pointed out, but “going to a camp where everything is geared right at punting has really helped. The camp brought out the finer points of punting the ball.”
The normally cheerful Beaty said the camp helped him so much he can “hardly wait to nail a 45-yard field goal.”
Running back Nate Neely came on late last season and ran hard when given the ball. He’s ready to get the chance this fall.
“You know, we are better than our record indicates,” the soft spoken Neely started out. “This was a strong group when we got here four years ago, and I think this year, we’ll show just how mature we have become. Leadership is the key, and from what I’ve seen so far this spring and summer, we have it.”
“One thing I’ve noticed is the maturity our players are showing in that we are still asking questions from our coaches and putting to work the instructions they give us,” Dustin Parrish observed. “I’m a lineman and a linebacker, but if I have a question and coach (Danny) is there, I ask him and he gives me a good answer. I’ve noticed that in all the players and all the coaches. I think that shows maturity.”
The team has three more seniors in Bailey Johnson, Zack Oliver, and the team’s only female, Lannah Taylor.
“Like Will (McDonald) said, we’re out of excuses or reasons,” Oliver added. “It’s time for us seniors to step up and get the job done, and I think we will.”
With three All-State starters, 11 experienced and mature seniors, and a healthy group of juniors on the roster, this just might be the season that has been expected for some time.