Excitement for running and lifted weights was never higher than on June 8.
But before they could do those things, the Lobos had to navigate hand washing stations that popped up throughout campus, a questionnaire, a temperature check and hearing ‘pull your mask up’ more times than you could count.
“No doubt that this will go down as the craziest year ever, for us and for everyone,” Longview head coach John King said. “It seems like it’s been four years in one, for us and everyone on and off the field.
“But, starting on June 8, we went to work.”
The check-ins and screenings continued every day for 28 weeks. Each day, every athlete documented in a notebook. Each day, one step closer to the goal: Play a season of football.
“These kids, here and everywhere, just wanted to play the game and did every single that that we asked of them to make that happen,” King said. “It was frustrating, it was annoying, it was a pain but they did it every single day and we accomplished that goal.”
For a team that places so much emphasis on spring practice when it comes to development and installation, the Lobos this season turned to the program established that builds players through the ranks from middle school all the way through varsity.
“You factor in everything with the pandemic and then losing spring football, which is always important for us and was even more so this year, we had to change the way we approached things,” King said. “You have the shutdown the start back up and then the delay and the whole time you don’t know a lot about your football team.
“It’s guys like DeCameron Thomas or Trevor Tamplin or Jahkamian Carr, guys that played junior varsity ball as juniors but they showed up, worked, were accountable and in turn had great seasons. Those are just a few examples. That’s what it took this year. That’s Lobo football. That’s why you play subvarsity games, develop kids and keep them in the program.”
It started rough in a season-opening loss to Temple in a perfect storm of errors compounded by an inexperienced football team during a pandemic that was far from figuring out its identity. That night at AT&T Stadium helped that cause.
“That Temple game was an awakening for a lot of people and our kids and coaches did a great job of regrouping after that,” King said.
The Lobos bounced back with solid wins over old foes in Marshall and Tyler Legacy and then over a new for in Beaumont West Brook. They entered a new district with two big wins before a date that had been circled since realignment in February.
“We rattle off several good wins, start to figure ourselves out and get to Highland Park, a game that was circled from the jump,” King said. “That was a very winnable game, we just didn’t make the plays down the stretch but we learned. Then we’re hit with a 21-day shutdown due to COVID-19 and an off week.
“We kept working and improving.”
After closing out district with two more convincing wins, a twist of fate pitted the Lobos against yet another old opponent in Lufkin to start the postseason. Then it was on to Lancaster and an underdog role. It followed with another tall task in No. 1 Denton Ryan, who ended the Lobos’ season at 9-3 with a 27-9 win.
“We had the same opportunities we had against HP but just couldn’t make the plays at the right times,” King said. “That was on everyone but it starts with me. We had a tough time running the ball and defensively just missed on a few plays where who knows what could happen if we get our hands on the ball.
“Denton Ryan is a good football team, No. 1 for a reason and a difficult matchup but it stung. It always does. But our kids, like they did all year, really since June 8, they competed and gave great effort. They did what they had to do to give us a chance. This year, that’s all you can really ask for.”
Offensively, it was about finding a new identity for the Lobos, who were replacing a quarterback and an offensive line.
That process started with two player: Kaden Meredith and Markevion Haynes.
Meredith capped a record-breaking career with 1,398 yards and 26 rushing touchdowns. His season puts him atop the Lobo record books in total career touchdowns and total rushing touchdowns.
Haynes bounced back from an injury as a junior with 1,198 rushing yards with 13 touchdowns with a number of bone-crunching runs and blocks.
“We put a lot on their plate,” King said. “They could have easily played on any Lobo team that I’ve coached, no doubt about it, and they would’ve played well.”
Longview finished the season with 3,109 rushing yards and 1,299 through the air from sophomore quarterbacks Jordan Allen and Landyn Grant. The bulk went to sophomore receiver Jalen Hale, who finished with 39 catches for 699 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hale has picked up offers from Texas, Georgia, Miami and Texas A&M recently.
Defensively, the Lobos entered this season with a number of spots to fill under a new coach in John Berry, who returned to the role of defensive coordinator.
Led by the defensive line of Joe Jones, Arthur Bryant, Carr and Tamplin, the Lobo defense was shut-down against the run, holding opponents to 918 total rushing yards this season on 318 carries.
The numbers were big everywhere. The line combined for 36 tackles for loss and 18 sacks. Linebacker Laqualon Hale led in total tackles with 88 to go with 11 tackles for loss and three sacks. His brother Tyree, the lone returner in the secondary, had a team-high four interceptions to go with 57 tackles.
Kybrien Jackson-Jamerson saw his role shift to a hybrid position this season and filled the stat sheet with 58 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, four sacks, five fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and five passes broken up. Dylan Davis, who missed his junior season, broke up 13 passes with three interceptions.
“They gave us a chance to be in the game or get back in the games time and time again,” King said of the defense. “It was 11 unselfish guys running to the football every play. Credit to the staff, they got the kids in the right spot and got a lot of miles out them with quite a few surprises.”
Longview graduates 42 seniors from the 2020 team and King, with the 2021 roster on his computer screen, figures 20 with some offensive experience and six with defensive experience will be back next season.
There are key spots to fill on offense and especially defense, which will be anchored by linebacker Devean Isaac (66 tackles, 13 TFL, 6 sacks). King expects a youth movement from the 2023 and 2024 classes to fill some of those roles.
They’ll rest and reset for now but the workload picks back up on January 6 in 2021, a year that all expect to go smoother. But, if not, the lessons of hard work and perseverance learned in a crazy 2020 will only help going forward.
“This took everyone, players, parents, coaches, administration and our athletic trainers, who were at the center of all of this with so much unsung work,” King said. “This group didn’t back down from anything that was thrown their way. They stuck together and grinded it out through the good and bad.
“Around here, I wouldn’t expect anything else.”