LONE TREE — Last season, Lone Tree made the move to 8-man football, beginning what is undoubtedly a tough transition.
It didn’t take long for the Lions to adjust, though. After a few months into the 2016 season — in which Lone Tree finished 8-1 — it had fully embraced the 8-man game.
Now, a full year removed from the switch, Lone Tree Coach Aaron Bohr said they’re even more comfortable with it.
“As a coaching staff last year … about a month or two into the season it just became really natural to us,” Bohr said. “Watching the Iowa Hawkeyes or watching the NFL, it’s like, ‘Wow, look at them playing that 11-man football. Isn’t that something?’”
Bohr and the Lions officially kicked off their season Monday, starting practices with the rest of the Week 0 teams across the state.
The Iowa High School Athletic Association allows teams who run into scheduling conflicts throughout the year to play in Week 0. These teams — traditionally smaller schools — get to play a game a week early, then have a bye week later in the season or play a 10-game schedule.
The Lions open the season on the road against Central City on Aug. 17. And while they’re just four days into the season, Bohr said he’s happy with what he’s seen out of his team.
“The guys that we have here, just every day they’ve been coming ready to work,” Bohr said.
“They’re really eager to learn. We have a lot of new stuff that we have to put in, too, so that’s good. I’m just really excited about this year’s group. They’ve done everything I’ve asked them.”
Last year’s squad graduated eight seniors, and was a group that Bohr said was one of the most talented he’s ever seen.
And while others around the district may look at the Lions and wonder how they can replace the talent lost, Bohr isn’t worried.
“People can look at us and see that we’re losing a lot of production (from last year), but the nice thing is the guys we have coming back I have a lot of confidence in,” Bohr said.
He mentioned several returning players that he expects to have an immediate impact and keep the Lions on pace. Senior Brock Smith recorded more than 50 tackles last season, and is expected to lead the offense at tight end. He returns several linemen, Casey Shalla and Wesley Holtz to name a few, that he hopes can hold down the trenches, too.
The depth chart, though, isn’t completely filled out yet. He’s got several spots on both the offensive and defensive end that he’s looking to hammer out, and he’s got a quarterback battle going on, too.
“The way I see it, we have a lot of people that will look at us on paper and say it’s going to be a down year,” Bohr said. “Two all-state players (back Jovonte Squiers and lienman Dawson Swails) are missing. But I’ve told these guys all along that it’s who they are that’s going to push them over the top. These guys have come together, they’ve had each other’s back … our weight room attendance has been phenomenal. I think that’s what’s going to really propel us forward.”
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