High School Football
Lions look to improve efficiency on and off field this fall
by Chris Goltermann
Aside from the background setting of a football practice on a baseball field soundtracked to the distinct blare of 1980s pop music, there were more obvious signs of changes being made with Trinity Christian's program on Thursday. Almost all are among a master plan at work for Lions head football coach Chris Hanson regarding transforming the atmosphere around the program.
They foremost involve improving efficiency on and off the field in 2014. Heading into his third year at the helm, Hanson has a smaller staff and notable holes to fill among this year's starting roster.
Even with one of the GISA's largest enrollments after last year's region powers moved on to the Georgia High School Association, improving on six victories won't be easy.
In addition to losing its starting quarterback, leading rusher and leading receiver from a state-playoff team, Trinity returns only one starter from a defensive unit that held four opponents to two touchdowns or less - one of which was a shutout of rival The Heritage School that clinched the program's second straight trip to the postseason.
With numbers equally down while awaiting what should be a promising group of middle school athletes in 2015, the Lions attacked its reconditioning practices in just helmets much like a teacher on the first day of school.
Expectations and assignments covered the gamut of subjects on Thursday from responsibilities in the huddle to base offenses and defenses - each of which was clocked to the precise second by Hanson, who made the most of a temporary move in practice site due to final preparations being done to the football field turf.
Practice in full pads begins Wednesday, which will see the Lions practicing on and off from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
'Coming into the season one of our goals is to be more efficient in the way we do things,' said Hanson. 'The big thing this year is we want them to commit to what we're doing every day and to commit to the 'T.' I've been proud of the effort and the attendance all summer from them. So far, they've really buying in to what we're trying to accomplish.'
While rejoined by defensive coordinator J.P. Weaver and assistant Mark Bryan, Hanson has added former Georgia offensive lineman Bruce Sells as his other coordinator and line coach after working with Trinity's successful feeder programs.
Establishing efficiency in the preseason may seem even more important to the Lions, who won't see an opponent until their Aug. 22 opener at Terrell County.
While Trinity hasn't held scrimmages since Hanson arrived prior to the 2011 season, the win totals have increased from three to six and then six again in 2013. A bigger emphasis, however, may come in intensifying conditioning further.
'We're going to try and limit our contact in practice. Now there are definitely going to be specific times that we're going to work on tackling in practice,' Hanson said. 'It limits the potential of getting guys hurt in practice. We're doing a lot more with conditioning than we've done in the past.'
Less contact during game week is something that most NFL players - including Hanson during his 11-year career as a punter - experience during the regular season.
A roster that could come in below the 40 players the Lions had a year ago - 13 of which were seniors - isn't exactly bare. Junior Grant Hurston looked the part of a potential star quarterback in the making while the most likely frontrunner to replace graduating senior Daniel Shoates, who signed with Tuskegee.
Two more seniors moved on to college programs, with fullback/defensive lineman J.D. Farlow signing with Reinhardt and leading receiver Glen Whisby heading to Faulkner.
Senior Diego Henriquez is the lone returning starter on defense, though a most-important piece to build around. He finished with a team-high 86 tackles while adding 6 ½ sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. With all the vacancies, even his defensive coordinator said he wasn't sure where he'd line up when the season begins later this month.
Trinity, which has run a 4-3 technique in all three years under Weaver, could be forced to switch things around depending on personnel.
Meanwhile, Henriquez and Hurston are two of the only ball carriers back on offense, combining for 298 yards on 77 carries.
The return of Christian Downs should take some of the pressure off Hurston in his move to quarterback. Downs finished with 22 receptions for 326 yards and three touchdowns as a big-play receiver. Henriquez is the only other returning player who had multiple catches in 2013.
After facing Terrell, a Class AA school that went 4-6 in 2013, the non-region schedule continues with a game against Flint River, under first-year coach Josh Daher, before facing Westfield in a rematch of last year's first-round state playoff game, won by the Hornets.
A new Region 1-AAA is a mix of eight schools all coming in from different directions. Trinity, Heritage and Dominion Christian all played in 2-AAA last year, with Westminster-Augusta reassigned to 4-AAA upon reclassification.
The newcomers include three fresh faces led by Loganville Christian, which won back-to-back 11-man state championships in the now defunct Independent Christian Schools of Georgia and Alabama league.
Young Americans of Conyers went 1-9 in 8-man play while Holy Spirit enters its first varsity season of GISA football.
The remaining two teams are Bethlehem Christian (a single A GISA school in 2013) and Griffin Christian, which did not play GISA football in 2012 or 2013 after a dropoff in numbers.
'It's a bigger region and it should make for some good competition,' Hanson said. 'Obviously Heritage is always a big game. But the next opponent for us is always the most important. We'll continue to focus on one game at a time.'