Game of the Week: Lakeside continues climb
Published on -9/1/2011, 10:29 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
Perhaps no Kansas coach has orchestrated a bigger turnaround in the last two years than Downs-Lakeside's Curt Christians. In 2008, 23 Kansas teams, including 0-8 Downs-Lakeside, finished the season winless, according to preppowerindex.com. Christians, an assistant on that squad, took over as head coach the next year. Those 23 teams combined to go 24-183 in 2009. Two squads, Lakeside and Class 4A Neodesha, had the biggest jumps to 4-5.
Last fall, Lakeside again made a large improvement when it finished 8-2. None of the other winless teams from 2008 had such an increase; Neodesha came closest with a 7-4 record in 2010.
"Obviously it was very gratifying and a lot of it was just due to the hard work of the kids along with the coaching staff, kind of coming together and using the talent that we had," Christians said. "Then, getting them in the right positions and running the right offensive schemes. As the kids improved weekly, their confidence grew. It just kind of all came together and jelled."
Christians, who famously took St. John's-Beloit, a squad that had just 11 players, to the 1996 state championship game, will look for another deep run with Lakeside this year.
"He is a great coach and he gets aggressive with his players," Clifton-Clyde coach Russ Steinbrock said.
"His St. John kids played very aggressive. ... I think they are going to be a definite team to look out for again this year."
Lakeside, the area's leading offense at 51.6 points per game last year, did lose four key players, including all-state wideout Connor Shoemaker (13 receiving TDs). However, it does have 19 juniors and seniors, many of whom had success in the junior high ranks and on last year's squad. Plus, many players have been through Christians' changes, including working harder in the summer weights and a focus on blocking and tackling fundamentals.
"We have a purpose in mind," Christians said. "I think more of a purpose than we did last year."
Lakeside does return senior quarterback Alex Renken, who accounted for 28 scores and tallied 1,252 all-purpose yards last year, and 215-pound senior running back Miles Thomas, who rushed for 1,164 yards.
"He is one of those guys that has got great speed, great vision, but he doesn't like to dodge people, he likes to run people over and he has got the speed and the frame to do that," Steinbrock said.
Last season, Lakeside opened the year with a last-second loss to Osborne. It then rolled off three straight victories before it knocked off Clifton-Clyde, a perennial power, 52-28.
"They have always kind of manhandled us in the past and we were kind of determined to go over there and stop their running game, and kids stepped up," Christians said.
Lakeside rolled through the rest of the regular season and entered the state rankings. In the playoffs, the Knights had trouble defending the pass and lost 50-42 to Lebo. This season, Christians has emphasized defensive improvement, especially against the pass. Thomas will play linebacker, senior Noah Miller returns at linebacker and senior Brandon Smith will be back in the secondary.
"We have got to do a better job on defense this year," Christians said.
"Hopefully we will do that. It comes down to getting off the blocks and tackling."
Offensively, Lakeside ran the ball 74 percent of the time in 2010. Without Shoemaker and Connor Storer, the team's second-leading wideout, the Knights could run the ball more. Senior Jakob Brush and Smith will likely be the two main wideouts. Brush has played well at the junior varsity level, catches the ball well and is a solid blocker. Christians believes Brush's strength will be on the shorter routes. Renken has worked on setting up and releasing the ball a little faster, changes that could lead Lakeside back to the playoffs -- and continue a massive turnaround.