If a team loses nearly half of its roster to graduation, including the starting quarterback, leading rusher and leading tackler, a down year could be expected.
Most teams would deliver on these low expectations, but not Lakeview Academy.
With a win on Friday night, the Lions (3-4) will close out the season just as they did in 2010: on a three-game winning streak and tying the school record for wins in a season for a program in its fourth year of varsity play, six years total playing football.
“I wish we could figure out our second half of our season so we could do it in the first part,” coach Matthew Gruhn said.
“This year, we had to almost start over, which made it tough,” Gruhn added, speaking about the number of seniors the program graduated a year ago.
Thankfully for coach Gruhn and Lion fans alike, Lakeview has had two seniors help carry the young team.
Coach Gruhn said that both of his seniors, Matt Askounis and Ralph Brooks III, bring their own unique qualities to the team.
“Ralph brings a love of the game and so much energy every single day,” he said, “while Matt has the ability to make plays and leadership.”
Askounis and Brooks have been friends off the field since the age of 5, but it was not until this season that Brooks got to block for Askounis from his left tackle position.
Though Lakeview Academy is the only school he has ever attended, he had to wait until his senior season to make the move down from the Bleacher Creatures, the student section at Lion home games. His father would not let him play for his first three years of high school.
“I felt like I needed to come down and help Matt out,” Brooks said. “But he has still led the team a lot.”
Askounis has enjoyed the extra help from the offensive line.
He began the season as the starting quarterback, but two weeks ago the team captain was moved to tailback for the game against North Cobb Christian. Askounis had two touchdowns and 151 yards on nine carries at the new position and was named The Times Player of the Week for Week 8.
Since the move, Lakeview Academy has gone unbeaten and averaged 32 points per game, up from the eight points per game the offense averaged during its first five games.
The changes on offense have the Lions confident heading into their season finale. Lakeview will travel to Hiawassee to take on Towns County (1-7), which, like Lakeview, also has a win over North Cobb Christian.
“All five games we have played with Towns have been extremely close, and I expect another hard fought battle,” Gruhn said.
All three believe the Lions program is making strides towards a winning season.
“To tie the school record for wins would be a big deal for the program,” Brooks said.
“Everyone doubted us at the beginning of the season because we lost so many seniors,” Askounis added. “And I think we’re starting to turn the corner for our program.”
The Lions will return 12 juniors from this year’s team and are hoping Senior Night festivities at Jock Hornor Field takes a little longer next season.
When asked how the Senior Night recognition went this year, Brooks’ answer was as quick as the festivities.
“Pretty short,” he responded.