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Lions there from the start
Four Lakeview seniors focused on finishing what they began their freshman years
Lakeview Academy senior Justin Luk takes a breather between plays Wednesday afternoon during the Lions’ practice as they prepare to travel to Towns County this Friday. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times
American novelist Don Williams Jr. once said that lessons come from the journey, not the destination.

For four senior football players at Lakeview Academy, the journey from their freshman year to now has been both exhilirating and daunting — marked by an improbable season and marred by a difficult one.

Harrison Bradley, Jordan Chastain, Lex Little and Justin Luk know that what comes of their final year means little compared to what it’s meant to be part of the journey that has been starting a program.

“(This season) means a lot to me,” said Bradley who is an offensive and defensive lineman. “During my freshman year I didn’t think I’d stick with it. I’m so glad I did though because it’s been life changing.”

When the foursome were freshmen, Lakeview Academy introduced a football program headed by Matthew Gruhn.

“When they got in it, they knew it would be tough,” Gruhn said. “But they stuck with it and hung in regardless and, thankfully, have taken people with them.”

Their sophomore year the program went 7-0 playing a junior varsity schedule. Last year, that same program suffered through its first varsity year and a 1-7 record.

“I’ll have memories of hard times and good times,” said Jordan Chastain, who is not only the program’s starting quarterback but also a starting linebacker. “The thing is though, I fought through whatever was happening and I can take that lesson with me for the rest of my life.”

When Gruhn was a freshman at Gainesville High School, he started playing football for his father Bobby Gruhn.

Gainesville was an established program, one steeped in tradition that settled for nothing less than the playoffs year in and year out.

When Luk was a freshman beginning his playing days at Lakeview for the younger Gruhn, none of the aforementioned could be looked to as a draw, but it didn’t deter him.

Luk knew even then that he would be playing for something greater, the chance to be able to look back and know he had a hand in getting a program established, in starting tradition.

“Football’s difficult and that’s what drew me at first — the physicality of the sport,” Luk said. “But the main thing was that it was something new for Lakeview and I thought it would be cool to build a new program and be part of something bigger than myself.”
Bradley echoed his teammates thoughts.

“When I look back, what it made it hard was that we looked at it in the short term,” he said. “But I’ve gotten to the point now where I see it in the long term and that’s what makes it life changing.

“I constantly encourage the freshmen and younger guys to stick it out because the rewards are great.”

For Gruhn, one of the rewards of coaching the first players who have been with him from the beginning is being a first-hand witness to growth and maturity.

“I mean, Lex started out as a skinny little guy,” Gruhn said. “But he’s progressed into a really good football player who’s also the strongest guy on our team.

“As a coach that’s what you love to see, that’s what you do this for — to see improvement in all areas.”

The same can be said for Chastain, who was a starting linebacker and backup quarterback to Haughton Carswell for three years before starting at both this season.

“We ask more of him than anybody we have on the team,” Gruhn said. “And the way he acts about it is the theme for how all these guys have taken what this program has thrown at them: like it’s no big deal.

“They just look at us and say, ‘OK, whatever you need.’”

Luk is quick to say that the journey has changed him and built character — made him tougher than he thought he could be.
For Chastain, the journey has been one of accomplishing something he didn’t think he could.

For their coach, the journey thus far has been a lesson in what can be done when the right people are asked to do it.

“To have these four come in and do something so difficult and finish it out,” Gruhn said. “They haven’t backed off once, they won’t back off this season and that’s why I love them.”
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