It was a little more difficult to decipher what the most compelling local story to the high school football season was this year over most.
We aren’t going to have a team in Hall County make a run all the way to the state title game like in 2008 and 2009.
But when you dig a little deeper, the remarkable story of what Lakeview Academy accomplished this season is right there to see. The reason what the Lions (4-4) did this season was newsworthy had nothing to do with a playoff appearance, star players or scandal. Lakeview Academy had none of the above and may never will.
And that’s OK with these guys.
At Lakeview, they don’t play the game with wins and losses determining whether it was a successful season, even though a .500 record sure was a nice outcome for all involved. In hindsight, playing a non-region schedule may have been a genius move by Lions coach Matthew Gruhn and athletics director Deuce Roark. They rightly decided the emphasis should be on having fun for the athletes and not getting wound too tightly about having to win every Friday to keep the program looking competitive and like a good financial and time investment for those involved.
Besides, isn’t having fun what playing football should be about at this level?
Secondly, the Lions’ success is refreshing since they don’t have the star athletes that keep college coaches coming to campus. Once again, that’s OK with these guys. Lakeview’s players consciously chose to go the private school road for the educational value and not for the best chance at a Division I football scholarship.
I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s nice to see a program with a remarkable sense of self awareness. They know they aren’t on the field with the expectations of hanging region or state title banners. Building memories with teammates and coaches is what matters most. Besides, it’s hard to build a Top 10 program when most of the players on the roster wear the same jersey size.
Gruhn has been quoted more than once saying rightly that his mission was to give his players the best Friday night experience underneath the lights. In the meantime, they found a way to win their fair share of football games in 2010.
The last thing to say that was refreshing about Lakeview’s season is that it never gave up, even after a 1-4 start. Instead of feeling like it was their destiny to have another losing season, the Lions stayed together and rounded out the season with nice victories against North Cobb Christian, Georgia Military and Towns County.
All around Lakeview Academy put the season into perspective and show that it’s important to win, but not give high school football such an inflated level of significance like it seems to be in today’s society.
With that said, I’d like to make another plug for my player of the year: Gainesville’s A.J. Johnson.
It’s been a pleasure watching this gentle giant take the field for the Red Elephants on the occasions I saw him play during the past four seasons. It’s hard to imagine we aren’t going to see him play at City Park again for the Big Red, but I’m sure this is just the beginning of a long and fruitful football career for Johnson, a University of Tennessee verbal commit. With his talent, I’m not going to be surprised at all if Johnson reaches his lifelong goal of playing in the NFL for a long, long time.
Bill Murphy is a sports reporter for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesbmurphy.