MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
The Lejeune High School Devil Pups’ football team has been very active this past summer and is preparing to make a dramatic change from just one season ago.
Finishing at 2-10 last season and losing in the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Associations 1A playoffs to Wallace-Rose Hill High School, Devil Pups’ Head Coach Darryl Schwartz is very confident his team will make the changes needed to have its first above .500 season in more than six years.
Schwartz said his team has more depth than in recent years and key players returning, such standouts Gaven Allen, the quarterback and Akile Jones, the running back.
“The more (players) you have, the more depth you have, and the more depth you have, the more competition you have,” said the former University of Connecticut football player. “Everyone wants to start. Everyone wants to be number one.”
Aside from the constant coming and going of military families, which can take away or add to the team, he said that it shouldn’t be an issue this year and believes that his team’s commitment is at an all-time high.
“During the summer, we can’t make players come to practice, it’s strictly voluntary,” said Schwartz. “We had almost 30 guys out here this summer to practice, get in shape and get to know each other’s playing habits. I was definitely impressed by their loyalty to the team.”
Schwartz, who is in his second season as head coach, believes that with the wealth of knowledge his players are bringing into the 2011 season, he feels that the team can develop more complex plays that they were not able to do last year due to the lack of experience.
“Last year, we were in the beginning stages – we didn’t have a cohesive team,” said Schwartz. “We didn’t have that many players to choose from and one thing that hurt us was the basics. Getting down to the basics at the start of every season, no matter if you have veteran players or not, is the key before you can move further. As we progress, we’re going to be able to incorporate more complex passing plays, such as the play action and running plays, like misdirection. We hope to catch (the opposing teams) off guard this year.”
Allen and Jones will, in Schwartz’s mind, will be able to provide the leadership the offense needs for it to be productive.
“Allen is a 6’ 4” quarterback who can see the defense, and that’s huge. He can make passes and he can roll out, bootleg and make good decisions if he’s in a hurry,” said Schwartz. “Allen is able to pick the right holes. He came off of more than 1,300 yards rushing and he is looking to get out there this year, his senior year, and make a huge impact for the team.”
As far as the defense is concerned, Kendall Lark, the team’s defensive lineman who, according to Devil Pups’ Schwartz is a “star in waiting,” will lead the team’s defense this upcoming season.
“He’s the man with the plan,” said Scwhartz. “During last semester he lost over 55 pounds, hit the weight room in the summer, and started a jogging program. He is lean mean (player)and (is) ready to play … (he has) awesome foot speed for a big man.”
Schwartz also believes that it’s the off-the-field character of his players that can contribute to the team. He has three things he requires from his players: be a good person, be a leader in the classroom and work as hard as you can on the field. He also feels that if players take care of their bodies and utilize their off time the right way can also help.
“Football is not easy, and I am not just talking about on the field either,” said Schwartz. “We tell them to get the adequate amount of sleep, eat correctly and instead of playing video games on their weekends, find something more physically productive to do. It’s tough, but if you want to be number one, you have to make sacrifices.”
Being this is the second year for the coach at Lejeune High School, this is also the second year for the Quarterbacks Club. Schwartz said the club is meant to get parents involved, which in return will help their sons on the field.
“I’ve been coaching football for 35 years, and one thing that worked for me when I played football was the Quarterbacks Club,” said Schwartz. “It worked for my son too. This is not just an important time for the students, but for parents as well - they are their kids’ biggest fans. They will do things such as bring refreshments for the players during practice, make pre-game meals or pitch in and take the players out to dinner. It’s always good to have your (parents) on your side.”
If his team’s commitment leading into the school year wasn’t enough for the head coach, the schedule for the 2011 season was changed to make it a more balanced playing field for the Devil Pups. Last year, they played five NCHSAA 2A teams, which have bigger schools and more players to choose from.
“We aren’t making excuses, but we are a small school,” said Schwartz. “This schedule will balance the teams for us and will make for a more interesting season.”
Up until Schwartz took the head coaching job last year, the team went winless in four straight seasons. Schwartz said his players’ can-do attitudes will make all the difference.
“We are a completely different team from last year,” he said. “We have more talent, knowledge and overall good kids who want to play and win some games. They’re going to do some great things this year.”
Friday Night Lights – Lejeune High School Devil Pups at Swansboro High School Pirates, Aug. 19
During their first game of the season at Swansboro High School, the Devil Pups seemed to play at the level Schwartz has seen this summer up until the game.
However, due to seven turnovers – three lost fumbles and four interceptions – the Swansboro Pirates took advantage and beat the Devil Pups 37-28.
Down 19-6 at halftime, the Devil Pups found new life in the beginning of the third quarter. With the Pirates driving on the Devil Pups’ 29-yard line, Devil Pups’ senior linebacker Chris Kelsey intercepted a pass and returned it 71 yards for a touchdown. Subsequently, on the next Devil Pups’ possession, sophomore Anton Crutcher dived on running back Akile Jones’ fumble in the end zone, to give the Devil Pups their only lead in the game, 20-19.
Things took a turn for the worst for the Lejeune team on Swansboro’s next possession. After leading for half a minute, Swansboro Pirates’ DeAndre Thompson took the ball on a reverse play and ran it to the end zone to take the lead back 25-20 after failing to make the two-point conversion.
After scoring another touchdown and making a two-point conversion to cut the Pirates’ lead to three, on the Pirates’ next possession, quarterback Robby Proctor scored on an 18-yard run to seal the win.
Loss aside, Schwartz thought his players did a good job of keeping in the game, despite the turnovers.
“My guys didn’t give up,” Schwartz said. “They didn’t give up when they were down. They kept pushing and gave the Pirates a good run. We have some things to work on, but I am happy with the way they fought tonight.”