Barely two months after Josh McConnell took over as the Lakeside School head football coach, he and Chief football players are going through a learning curve together as the 2019 season approaches.
McConnell took the job on Lakeside’s graduation night in May, and is still learning new things about his Eufaula-based team.
“They are still trying to figure me out and I am still trying to figure them out,” McConnell said. “We are still in the feeling out process of what is supposed to be, what I expect and what I don’t.”
The new Lakeside head coach spent the last 12 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater Glenwood School in Smiths Station, including 10 years as the Gators’ defensive coordinator. He played college baseball at Marshall University prior to his stint at Glenwood. The Chiefs’ position is his first head job.
Ironically, his debut with the Chiefs comes against his former school and employer on Aug. 30 at Glenwood. The two also played in the opener last year with the Gators winning 23-20.
“I thought they were well-coached and got after it,” McConnell recalled of Lakeside last year. “I think attribution got them at the end as they got some big pieces that got hurt.
“I think they had four-five knee injuries. They got killed by the injury bug last year, so we are crossing our fingers and saying prayers that that doesn’t happen again.”
While he has been part of Lakeside’s program for only a short time, McConnell has already noticed one major trait he likes in Lakeside players.
“The big thing I have noticed since I have been there is that the kids work hard,” McConnell said. “They want to be there. They enjoy being there. They want to get better and they will do anything you ask them to do. I have been blessed to have a group of phenomenal kids.
“They have been there every time the door is open (for workouts). They have put in a lot of hard work this summer and I hope they continue to do so. They will reap the rewards for that.”
He adds practices have gone well and have been “productive” so far.
Seven starters return on offense for Lakeside, which finished 5-5 last season and made the first round of the AISA Class AA state playoffs under Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame coach Dan Klages.
“To be honest, our strength is going to be our skill position guys,” McConnell said. “We are athletic. We can run a little bit and we can throw and catch. But at the end of the day, it will all be determined by how good we are up front. If we can put those pieces of the puzzle together and be good up front, we have a chance to win some games without a doubt.”
Quarterback Taylor Gover, who threw for 1,253 yards last year, has graduated, but McConnell feels confident in Auston Welsh at the position. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior started at running back last year for Lakeside.
“Our quarterback, Gover, obviously is not returning after graduating, but Auston Welsh has stepped in and taken a leadership role,” McConnell said. “He has been really good for us this summer.”
Jacari Richardson, a 5-foot-9, 170-pound senior, returns as a starting running back and Parker Brabham, a 5-foot-11, 190 senior, returns as the starting fullback to lead the backfield.
De’Vontae Bowick, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound senior, returns as a starting wide receiver and senior Stan Wilson (5-9, 160) and sophomore Slade Seaborn (5-9, 160), two players McConnell said have stood out in summer practice, are expected to be in the wide receiver rotation.
Up front the Chiefs return three starters -- J.J. Dismukes (Sr., 6-1, 260), Liston Corcoran (Jr., 5-10, 200) and Klayton Walker (Sr., 5-9, 180). Junior Cole Parker (6-2, 210) and Jackson Etheridge (6-2, 280) are other players expected to play a role up front.
Experience isn’t as vast for a defense that allowed the fewest points last year at Lakeside since 2010. Only four starters return.
Dismukes and senior Daniel Griswold (6-2, 205) are back as starting D-linemen and De’Vontae Bowick and Brabham return as starters at linebacker.
Other key players expected to play a role on defense include lineman Christopher Martin (Jr., 6-3, 205), linebacker Jeremiah Bowick (Jr., 5-8, 180) and defensive backs Wilson and Cade Atwell (Sr., 5-11, 165).
Wilson returns to handle the Chiefs’ kicking duties.
Lakeside will try to add to its streak of seven straight seasons with at least five wins, last failing to reach the mark in 2011. Six of those seven teams made the state playoffs with three advancing to the state semifinals, including two years ago.
CHIEFS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Josh McConnell (1st year at Lakeside and as a head coach)
>> 2018 record: 5-5 overall, 3-2 in AISA, Class AA, Region 1, first round of Class AA state playoffs
>> 2018 results: Glenwood School (L, 20-23); at Northside Methodist (W, 34-26, OT); at Evangel Christian # (W, 50-12); Coosa Valley Academy # (W, 38-22); at Abbeville Christian (W, 34-6); at Autauga Academy # (L, 7-48); Edgewood Academy # (L, 7-31); Springwood School # (W, 33-15); Pike Liberal Arts (L, 21-28). STATE PLAYOFFS: at South Choctaw Academy (L, 14-46)
>> Points scored/per game: 258/25.8
>> Points allowed/per game: 257/25.7
>> Returning offensive starters (7): QB Auston Welsh (Sr., 5-11, 190); RB Jacari Richardson (Sr., 5-9, 170); FB Parker Brabham (Sr., 5-11, 190); WR De’Vontae Bowick (Sr., 5-10, 180); OL J.J. Dismukes (Sr., 6-1, 160); OL Liston Corcoran (Jr., 5-11, 200); OL Klayton Walker (Sr., 5-9, 180)
>> Returning defensive starters (4): DL J.J. Dismukes (Sr., 6-1, 160); DL Daniel Griswold (Sr., 6-2, 205); LB De’Vontae Bowick (Sr., 5-10, 180); LB Parker Brabham (Sr., 5-11, 190)
Aug. 30 at Glenwood
Sept. 6 Northside Methodist
Sept. 13 at Tuscaloosa Aca.
Sept. 20 at Coosa Valley #
Sept. 27 Abbeville Christian
Oct. 4 Crenshaw Christian
Oct. 11 Autauga Academy #
Oct. 18 Edgewood #
Oct. 25 at Springwood #
Nov. 1 at Pike Liberal Arts
# Denotes region games