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After a record-setting 2017 football season, Lee Central High School struggled in 2018. The Stallions won just two games with a young squad, missing out on the 2A state playoffs.
Stallions head coach Justin Danner thinks his young team didn't know how to handle being the top dog of defending Region 7 champion that everyone was hunting. He's hoping the down year in 2018 taught his returnees some lessons.
"For us having a little bit of success in 2017, our kids learned about being the hunted. I think we didn't understand that as a younger football team, because the guys that just made a lot of noise, a lot of them left," Danner said. "Having younger guys, we really tried to get everybody to understand that everyone is gunning for you because you were the last team that was on top. Now we're hopeful that we can gun for some of the teams in our conference that gave us a tough time a year ago."
Senior offensive lineman and defensive lineman Emmanuel Cain said he and his teammates are using last year's struggles as motivation.
"We know that we've gotta work harder and that motivates us each and every day we come to practice," said Cain. "We're continuing to push each other to work harder, and we know when we go out on the field, we gotta do what we gotta do."
Leadership was one of the main problems for last year's team, according to senior running back and defensive back Naquan Peeples. He and his fellow seniors are excited to step into bigger leadership roles this season.
"Leadership was the biggest thing last year. Nobody was the leader on the field, so (the team) wasn't following anybody. They played their own game," said Peeples. "We have a whole team full of young guys, so it's good that the senior class can lead them and show them the right way, so they can do it for the rest of the upcoming players."
Danner echoed those sentiments.
"It's not just about the X's and O's. We've got the X's and O's figured out enough, it's about the other intangibles right now that's going to matter the most," said the Stallions' head coach.
Because Lee Central was young, it has a lot of returning firepower this season. Its biggest asset is the number of returning starters on the offensive line.
That line will help Jaquaze Myers -- who played wide receiver and running back along with being an All-Conference punter last season -- adjust to playing quarterback at the varsity level for the first time.
"People get to watch skill guys that are all the stars of the NFL (National Football League) and college football, and those linemen don't ever get really recognized as the guys," said Danner. "Those skill kids realize just how important they are after taking a few licks. I think that was big for us last year."
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