Work began as the celebrations continued this offseason for the Longview Lobos.
As much as everything is the same — a competitive spring practice, a beneficial summer and the nervous excitement of a new, fresh season — as practice begins Monday, things are different for the defending state champions.
“The mindset around here hasn’t changed and it didn’t change after we won it,” Longview head coach John King said. “We came back in January and went to work. It did have a different feel. You are proud of what you accomplished but you know there is a tremendous amount of work to be done and there needs to be that hunger to get it going again.”
Heartbreak often serves as a rallying cry from season to season — the ‘remember this feeling and work to get back’ speech is often leaned on. But what about using that joy as a motivation? King said he saw it this spring as the Lobos, for the first time in 81 years, went back to work as state champions.
“I thought the spring practice was very competitive, as competitive as it’s been as far as how hard they worked and how we started working on that continuity it takes to build a championship team,” King said. “It’s something that you talk about as a team and you hope they’re taking to heart but there wasn’t much to say. This ‘won not done’ mentality is there and it has to be.
“With these guys, you don’t really have to say it. They know what is coming and what is expected. You talk about a chip on the shoulder after a tough loss but that chip is there, I think, coming in as defending champions. It better be.”
King said the Lobos wrapped a ‘productive’ summer with steady attendance while taking advantage of the new UIL summer rule that allowed some skill practice to be incorporated into the usual strength and conditioning, although the latter is where the emphasis remained overall.
“We had good attendance throughout the summer and we got in a few practices under the new rule but the focus and priority was training.
“I think we’re going to have large numbers that show up on Monday. We currently have around 155 that are on the depth chart and have said they’re coming. I’m looking forward to a big turnout and hope to go out there and have an eventful practice, see how much they have retained, what kind of shape we’re in as a team and what kind of surprises we have coming. I’m ready to see everyone fly around and get everyone back together again.”
As far as personnel, it’s both a rebuilding and reloading effort. The Lobos have four returning starters on both sides of the ball and a number that saw reps each way as well.
At the skill positions offensively as well as the front seven on defense, a priority will be finding the personnel groupings and how they gel. With returners in both of those areas, competition will come as well as an added level of versatility.
“We’ve got to lock down our people and our personnel groupings,” King said. “We always start at square one and hope the retention level is high so we can keep advancing every day.
“Defensively, again, we’ve got to settle in our personnel with the three-down and four-down looks. I feel pretty confident about getting seven quality guys on the field.”
The biggest questions coming in are up front offensively, where the line took the biggest hit to graduation. Second to that is the secondary on defense. Both areas have a number of players in the mix to grab a spot.
“On the line, we’ve got to have the top five on the field and find a way to have quality backups,” King said. “There is a huge opportunity there for several guys to step up. Same thing in the secondary. We took a hit there and in today’s world of the RPO and so much man coverage, we’ve can’t be weak in the last line of defense.
“We’ve got to have guys go out there and win the job. We’re talking about question marks but that really applies to every single spot on the field.”
Longview’s varsity team will hit the field by 5 p.m. each day this week and wrap up around 7 p.m., King said, as they work through the acclimatization period of shorts and helmets, half shell and full pads, which will come on Saturday.
The Lobos will host Texas High in its lone preseason scrimmage on Aug. 23 before making the trek to Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin for a season-opening date with the Panthers on Aug. 30.
“It’s a different feeling — a good feeling — but different,” King said. “But there are things that are the same in that we’re going to get everyone’s best shot, which we want and expect, to go with the sky-high expectations that always surround this football team.