LAKE TWP. Football coaches often demand that players take ownership of their team and in order for a team to succeed, players have to accept that challenge.
As the summer wears on, that process is playing out for the Lake Blue Streaks and their seniors, including defensive lineman Alex Keith. Keith, who became a starter as a junior, is one of the veterans being counted on to lead Lake in pursuit of a third straight playoff berth and a Federal League title.
He and his fellow seniors know that the program’s success both this season and beyond hinges on not only them playing well, but their willingness and ability to lead and set a good example for younger players.
Following a recent conditioning session, Keith pulled aside a few younger players who had missed out conditioning the day before.
“We do that sometimes, but those guys … were younger guys who were not here yesterday and then kids who haven’t been here in a while and we put in our coverages yesterday, so me and Robert (Harris) had to explain it to them so they know next time we do the defense, so they’re prepared,” Keith said. “Yesterday when we were out here, they (coaches) were like, ‘Make sure you’re getting on guys who aren’t here,’ so me and Robert took charge of that today.”
The informal teaching session came after a lifting and conditioning session in which dozens of players took part in time in the weight room followed by the football equivalent of Ultimate Frisbee. Varsity players competed at one end of the field, junior varsity at the other, with each group splitting into two teams and trying to advance the ball down their end of the field by taking two steps or less, then throwing it to a teammate.
Summer conditioning is arguably one of the least fun activities for a team because it involves a lot of running, lifting and conditioning in hot, humid conditions. According to Keith, attendance for Lake has been solid so far this summer.
Even though his senior class is on the small side in terms of numbers, the seniors are doing their best to make their voices heard and follow in the steps of those who preceded them.
“We’ve definitely got to help the underclassmen, set an example and let them know, set examples for them, help them out and don’t be distant,” Keith said. “You’ve got to include them in stuff and involve them, or if they need help on a certain lift and help them out.”
He recalled being a sophomore and serving as a backup on special teams for the varsity, having a strong senior class taking charge. That trend continued last season and Keith noted that he was friends with many of the team’s captains. He saw them as good role models and believes this he can do the same for the freshmen, sophomores and juniors this season.
“Absolutely, yeah … when those older guys were running the youth camp, I really looked up to those guys as leaders and good role models in my eyes, so I want to reflect that,” Keith said.
Leadership for a season starts well before the kickoff on opening night, with players standing side by side for sprints, hill runs and lifting over the spring and summer. Those activities are in pursuit of Lake’s third straight postseason berth, a feat that would put this year’s seniors in the company of some of the best classes to come through Lake over the years.
Keith knows it would mean a lot to all involved to be able to reach the playoffs again and believes it would also be a credit to past Blue Streaks.
Getting to the playoffs means at least six wins and likely more, so getting ready for a schedule that promises to be taxing from opening night on is vital. When fans come out to Blue Streak Stadium on Friday nights in the fall, they put their full support behind the team, but Keith knows even the team’s most avid supporters don’t fully know all that goes into a winning effort.
“It’s crazy, nobody sees the kind of work that goes in … these past two days we’ve beeb busting out butts down here doing lots of conditioning, running the bleachers and running the hills … nobody sees that. They come out and see us play on Friday nights, but nobody sees what goes on in the background,” he said, adding that there’s one mantra he repeats to himself when trying to complete every single drill or lift. “Just gotta make sure you finish hard. I’m always thinking in my head, ‘Finish strong, finish strong and it’ll pay off in the end.’”
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB