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Lions laying foundation

Lakeview Academy football finishes with undefeated record this season

POSTED: November 18, 2007 5:04 a.m.

It was their first game of the 2007 season and they won it in the waning minutes on a broken up two-point conversion.

It was their first varsity game ever, played Aug. 31 in Hiawassee against Towns County and Lakeview Academy had won.

"It was a pretty surreal mood," said second-year Lakeview coach Matthew Gruhn. "Everybody kind of knew what was at stake, it was a big jump from junior varsity to varsity."

In 2006, Lakeview’s first year of fielding a football team, the Lions played a junior varsity schedule and amassed a 2-4 record. In 2007, Lakeview played four varsity and three junior varsity games and went undefeated at 7-0.

"Practices leading up to that (first varsity) game were very good, very focused, very solid and the mood around school was excitement," said Gruhn.

Up until that Aug. 31 night, the Lions had only played on Thursday afternoons.

"It was a Friday night experience," said Gruhn. "The whole town of Hiawassee was there to see it, they had a new coaching staff. Our fans came out, we had a ton of people there. I’ll never forget when we ran on the field all the people and the excitement."

The Lions led by junior quarterback Haughton Carswell, who ran for a 60-yard touchdown and passed for the ensuing two-point conversion against Towns County, ended the night with an 8-6 win over the Class A Indians.

"Throughout the game our kids finally felt that this is what Friday night is," Gruhn said. "It was like their first time in a candy store. It was so neat to see."

The admitted difference

"We knew (during the summer) that we had our first varsity game coming up so it was a different mood," said senior captain and Lakeview fullback Matt Reynolds. "There was less joking in practice and more of a down to business attitude."

The Lakeview football team spent the summer of 2006 learning the fundamentals of the game and struggled through the inaugural season.

According to senior captain Charlie Skinner, a center, 99 percent of the team had never played organized football.

The summer of 2007 the Lions learned what came after the basics and did anything but struggle through the second season.

"This year we had that basic understanding and that opened up a gap for the coaches to get in there and really start coaching us," said Skinner.

"We understood the game more," said Reynolds. "We were more confident coming into this season and we knew we had some athletic people, some strong kids and some fast kids."

Coach Gruhn said that having a year under their belt allowed his coaching staff to be more creative and add new things and allowed them to coach better which was more motivating to the entire coaching staff.

"A year of experience is huge and the fact that we had some success last year helped," said Gruhn.

The Lions went from having two practices a week to having three each week and, according to Skinner and Reynolds, the practices were much more intense.

"During practice things got bumped up to, well, like a real football team," Skinner said. "We practiced tough and ended up playing tough."

The Lakeview philosophy

"One thing we tried to sell them on is playing for each other," said Gruhn. "It’s harder than what it sounds like in today’s world because everybody wants to get theirs. Luckily our kids bought into it."

During the course of the season the Lions faced injury and scoring deficits but because of their philosophy worried little.

They knew someone would always step up.

"We had each other’s back," Gruhn said. "These kids responded when the situation was at its toughest."

Gruhn pointed to a moment in the season, when his team was playing Pace Academy in their next to last game, as a moment of clarity where his team’s philosophy was concerned. He knew, with his team down 7-6 late in the game that something was going to happen to change that around.

"It was a weird feeling," Gruhn said. "I just wasn’t real worried. I knew something good was going to happen. It’s unbelievable for kids that have only played a couple of years."

For Skinner and Reynolds, the philosophy their coach taught was easy to follow because they saw it played out everyday by the ones leading practice.

"You know that love is there," Skinner said, "and that the coaches want you to do the best you can do because they love you and not because they want to win or because they want their reputation to be good."

Recommital

When the Lions faced Hebron Christian for their second varsity game, in Week 4 of their season, both teams were 3-0 and while Lakeview had an uncoachable swagger about it, Gruhn was getting worried his team was overconfident.

"As coaches we were fighting the mentality that the kids thinking about the end result," said Gruhn. "We had to keep it one day at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time."

When the upstart Lions reached 5-0, their coach decided to fight human nature tooth and nail.

"We had a point where we had to get recommitted to the team and that was great because here we were 5-0 and coach is saying, ‘That’s not enough. You need to rededicate yourself to this team.’"

For Gruhn, he knew it was human nature to relax when success came, but he didn’t want that from his team.

"I guess part of our whole philosophy is being in a mode of constant improvement," Gruhn said. "We were fearful we might flat line a little bit."

Gruhn and his coaching staff needed and wanted to put in their players minds that they still needed to focus on the things that had gotten them to an undefeated 5-0 record, and that was the little things.

"You don’t want to make the record the sole goal," Gruhn added. "We didn’t want to be satisfied we wanted to keep getting better and the kids responded."

Out with a roar

On Oct. 25, the Lions went into their final game of the season undefeated and left the final game of the season in the same manner, beating Pickens’ junior varsity.

"When you’re walking off the field after a win, especially the last one," Skinner said, "you’re a senior and all your guys are there together and it’s just an overwhelmingly proud feeling for your team and yourself."

"What we accomplished is still starting to sink in a little bit," Gruhn said. "Of course, we’re already looking toward next year as coaches do and next fall and how we can get better."

Lasting legacy

Skinner and Reynolds both said that Gruhn told them when they were named captains that at no given time, no given point could anyone doubt their effort and that, more than anything, they hoped a "get after it" mentality was the lasting legacy from the Lions 2007 undefeated season.

"Legacy is more one of attitude than wins," Skinner said.

"We both agree that we hope that the leadership skills that we gained showed every snap, every game," said Reynolds, " and that regardless we went 110 percent the entire time and that we were always encouraging."



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