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If you walk into the weight room at Robert E. Lee Academy, you'll see a photograph hanging on the wall of the scoreboard from the football team's 49-6 loss to John Paul Catholic School II in the SCISA 2A state playoffs last season. The photo serves as a constant reminder of how the Cavaliers let their guard down at the exact wrong time last year.
"There's no reason to lose 49-6 to a team you're better than," said senior wide receiver Matthew Johnson. "We didn't come focused."
That won't be a problem this year. The Cavaliers have 16 seniors returning, and each of them remembers what it was like to walk off as 43-point losers last November.
"I wasn't happy at all with the way we ended," said senior quarterback Jet Smith. "You always want to end the year with a state championship. That's just the main goal, to work our butts off and get a ring."
Last year was actually supposed to be a rebuilding year for REL. At least, as much of a rebuilding year a team that's gone 42-10 and won a state championship over the past four years can have.
"We were happy with 8-4, but some of our people and some of our players didn't understand us not winning 10 or 11 games," said head coach David Rankin.
"Our expectations are through the roof here at Robert E. Lee. We won the ball games we probably should've won, and lost a couple we probably should've lost."
Expectations are high again this year. The program has had a year to retool, and Rankin and his staff have instituted a few changes to help mesh better with their current personnel.
"We're excited about our football program," said Rankin. "We had a great summer, maybe the best summer we've had in a long time. We're in the best shape we've been in a long time. We're excited about where we're at."
The Cavaliers main concern is on the defensive side of the ball, where they gave up an average of 40.5 points per game over their final four contests last year. "Defensively, we have to improve our defense," said Rankin. "If we don't improve our defense we're not going to be a better football team."
Offensively, Rankin plans to emphasize the running game more this year, but fans can still expect the high-octane offense that has given the program so much success over the past four years.
"I think if we just work as a team, and just build each other, we could definitely be playing for a state championship this year," said Smith.
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