GAINESVILLE — Rebuilding a soccer program is never easy, but for East Hall’s second year boys coach Jonathan Lillie the task was significantly daunting.
When Lillie took the Vikings post prior to the start of the 2006 school year, not only were the Vikings coming off a three-season stretch where they had won only one game (in 2004), but they were lacking the necessary financial means to even be competitive on the field.
When he took the job the program was $3,500 is debt.
"I inherited a bag of six ratty balls that were all torn up and two sets of jerseys, but no complete set," Lillie said. "We couldn’t even field a team with the same jersey before last year."
With new jerseys on their backs East Hall started to not only look like a team, but it started to play like a team, as well.
In 2007, the Vikings doubled their win total from the previous two years by winning two games, and this year, through just 11 games, have more wins (eight) than the previous four years combined (3).
"It never really crossed my mind that we’d be winning games," senior defenseman Hugo Rangel said. "It feels great to finally be a part of a winning team."
The Vikings (8-3, 3-2 Area 7-AAA) are winning at a rate that is unfamiliar to anyone on their team.
Prior to this season the Vikings didn’t just lose, they lost bad. In the 2005 season, East Hall was outscored by its opponents 75-3, including a 15-0 loss to Johnson that the Vikings were finally able to avenge this year.
"We’ve never even scored against Johnson until this year," Lillie said, referring to the Vikings 2-1 win in penalty kicks against Johnson on March 7.
The win against the Knights was game two of the Vikings’ four-game winning streak that was snapped on Monday when they lost to North Hall 2-1 in penalty kicks. But during the streak, East Hall played like a team on a mission, outscoring their opponents by a score of 17-0, which is one more goal then the team scored all of last season.
"I tell these guys that they are no different than any other school or any other student body," Lillie said. "They have the ability, they just have to put in the time, the effort and the dedication and be committed to it in order to be successful."
To hammer home that concept, Lillie used a passage from Proverbs 14:23 in the Bible.
"All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk only leads to poverty."
Explained Lillie: "You’re going to have a profitable season and profitable program if you put in the hard work and you do what needs to be done."
While the fruits of his labor are finally paying off, changing the mentality and dedication level of the team did not happen overnight.
"The attitude of the players was really negative," Rangel said. "Whenever someone did something wrong we’d point fingers. This year we don’t point fingers, we just work harder as a team."
Added fellow senior Jose Casterjon: "The past couple of years we’d just play around, now we play together more."
In order to get to that level the Vikings had to put the past behind them.
"One thing we’ve really gotten around to is giving these guys hope," Lillie said. "We’re not going to be haunted by the ghosts of our past. We’re going to move forward and we’re going to do better than we have in the past because we can."
Not only are the Vikings doing better on the field, but they are also excelling in the classroom, which can also be attributed to their second-year coach.
"I require the players to pass all four classes to play in games," Lillie said. "If they are dedicated in the classroom then they’ll be disciplined on the field and during practice."
According to one player, having a coach that feels that strongly about his players has been a factor in the team’s success.
"We finally have a coach that cares about us and makes us more disciplined," senior John Ray Flores said. "Now we’re playing as a team and we’re more of a family."
With eight wins already tallied, this year is already a success for the East Hall boys soccer program, and according to Lillie, now that the attitude of the players has changed, the program will continue to improve.
"What I want to generate is not so much how many wins, but keeping that hope level up," Lillie said. "If we keep the dedication level up, the commitment level up and increase it from year to year, then the wins will come."
Flores hopes that the success of this year will supplant the Vikings as one of the teams to beat in Area 7-AAA.
"Right now everybody thinks that we’re the bottom team, but if we keep winning, hopefully it’ll put a name on East Hall."