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Larry Cornelius says the honeymoon is over at Lakewood High School. Not necessarily for the Gators football head coach, but for the program itself.
"We're going to be small this year, as far as numbers," said Cornelius, who has a 5-14 record after two seasons at Lakewood. "The honeymoon period is over. When I first came in the numbers always tend to be a little bit high, but we started putting the hammer down. We're a 4A team, but we're taking a 1A mentality."
What Cornelius means by that is the Gators will have several players seeing action on both sides of the football as well as seeing time on special teams. He expects to have at least five players starting on both offense and defense when Lakewood opens its season on Friday at home against Colleton County.
"We feel like we have to put the best guys out there each and every game to have a chance to win," Cornelius said.
Lakewood will be going through a period of adjustment, especially on the offensive side of the football. It will be without quarterback Malik Richardson, who is now a freshman at Western Carolina University. Richardson was the leading rusher last season. He picked up 964 yards and scored eight touchdowns on 177 carries while playing in eight of nine games for Lakewood, which went 3-6 on the season. He passed for 938 yards and five touchdowns, completing 69 of 137 passes.
Senior Cody Windham is in line to take over for Richardson. Cornelius believes Windham is ready to take over the reins of the offense.
"Specificially with Cody Windham, he's been waiting for this moment," Cornelius said. "I think he could have played for several schools around here (as a junior), but he just happened to be behind a Division I player. Sometimes that just happens.
"Cody is a great passer, gets his reads correctly. He had a great offseason."
Cornelius spoke of how Windham never missed a practice or workout over the summer despite playing baseball for the Sumter P-15's American Legion program."He wants to win, not just for himself, but for his brothers," Cornelius said of Windham, who completed 12 of 30 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown in eight games last year.
Building that family mentality is something that Cornelius believes he and his coaching staff have done."
Mentality is our biggest stepping stone," the head coach said. "Physically I thought we were there last year. We were in most of our games. You have to have that mentality to go over the edge. I think that's what Lakewood has missed the last several years, that never-give-up attitude.Our motto this year is 'Win the rep.' That's what our players have been hearing, 'Win the rep, win the rep, win the rep.' "
Returning lineman Kyliek Baxter believes there is more camaraderie on the team."We want to be a better teammate to our players so we can go farther this season," said Baxter, who will start on both sides of the football. "We feel like we have to come together, be a team. Last year we had too many "me" players."
Baxter, at 320 pounds, is part of what will be a huge offensive line. The Gators will have four players on the offensive line tipping the scales at over 300 pounds.
"I feel really good about our offensive line," Cornelius said. The downsize to being bigger though is we're not going to be as fluid. We're going to have to hit the edges a little bit different. Passing to the perimeter will be our sweeps.We'll still run option, just not as much just because Cody isn't as fast as Malik. Our running backs will be a little bit bigger, so we're probably going to run more between the tackles."
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