BEN HUR — When a high school football team goes 1-9, there are plenty of lessons to be learned.
“We played a lot of young kids last year,” said second-year Lee High coach Terry Martin. “There were a lot of growing pains. I know that I learned a lot about patience.”
Those young players are now a year older and much wiser.
“We have 12 seniors and 20 juniors who will see a lot of playing time,” Martin said. “We return eight starters on both sides of the ball. They know our system and have become comfortable with it.”
Leading the Generals again this season is junior quarterback Houston Sage.
“He has a very good arm and he runs well,” Martin said. “We expect big things from him.”
All-district running back Ray Avery, a senior, returns along with junior Cody Haynes, who was injured midway through last season. All-district wide receiver Justin Gilliam, a junior, also is back running routes.
“He’s bigger, stronger and faster than last year,” Martin said of Gilliam. “He’ll also play some outside linebacker for us.”
Junior Charlie Mullins, recuperated from reconstructive knee surgery, starts at center.
Sophomores D.J. Lawson and Patrick Allen were starters as freshmen and are back to give the Generals a big push up front.
Senior Josh McCall and junior Chase Cluesman add to an already experienced and solid line on both sides of the ball.
Martin also expects big things from senior wideout and defensive back Aaron Fee.
Newcomers to watch include sophomores Jacob LeFevers and Evan Collins.
Offensively, the Generals are operating out of the pistol set.
“Make no mistake, we want to run the football first,” Martin said. “Our goal is to control the football. If we have it, people can’t score on us.
“A big concern for us is turnovers. Last year they just killed us. We have to do a better job of holding onto the football.”
In addition to working to control offensive turnovers, the Generals are dialing up their physicality on defense.
“I told the guys we just have to be tougher on defense if we expect to succeed,” Martin said. “So far in our early practices we’ve shown that we are going to be more physical this year.”
Martin’s Generals are members of the newly formed Mountain District. He expects Union to be the class of the league and John Battle a close second — but don’t count out his team.
“I think we’re capable of being in the mix,” Martin said.
“Our strength will be our skill people,. The line is still a question mark, but we’re getting there.”
Stability should help. Last year’s senior class was playing under its third coaching staff.
“That was tough for them,” Martin said. “But we’ve settled down and now they know what to expect. They’ve learned a lot and are looking a lot better.”
Tim Johnson moved over from Thomas Walker to be the Generals’ offensive coordinator this season.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity,” Johnson said. “It should be a lot of fun this season.”