LIMA – Last year was a magical year for Spartans’ football.
Lima Senior reached the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
The Spartans had their first winning record (8-3) since 1999.
And they had the most wins since 1997.
But it all stopped in a hurry with a first-round playoff loss to Harrison, 37-36.
Now the Spartans are aiming for more.
“We had a great year last year, but we weren’t as successful as I thought we would be,” Lima Senior quarterback Darius Gordon said. “But I’m looking to go forward and beyond where what we did last year.”
Added Lima Senior wide receiver Ruben Flowers, “We ended 0-3, and it’s all about how you finish.”
Wide receiver Rico Stafford said the team needs to keep up its intensity level throughout the year.
“We have to come out like every game is going to be our last,” he said.
Lima Senior coach Mike Fell wants his team to build on last year, when the Spartans started 8-0 before finishing 8-3.
“That first three months of the season, we were like rock stars,” Fell said. “We were 8-0, then we get to the last two weeks of the season and played a little tougher competition, but we didn’t play our best and we ended on a sour note, being up 36-7 and letting a team (Harrison) come back and beat us in the playoffs. That left a bad taste in our mouth.”
Fell also felt last year gave this team plenty to build on.
“I think they got a taste of success last year, and they liked it,” Fell said. “They want to get back to it.”
A total of 10 starters return, including four on offense.
Quarterback Gordon returns after throwing for 3,011 yards, with 36 TD passes and only six interceptions.
His three top targets are back, as well, including first-team all-state Flowers, a 6-foot-4 receiver who has committed to Pittsburgh. Flowers had 65 receptions for 1,314 yards and 13 TDs.
Also back are 6-foot-5 receiver Stafford (23 receptions, 545 yards and 11 TDs) and receiver Demontay Liles (35 receptions, 464 yards, 5 TDs).
The key to the offense will be replacing all five starters on the offensive line. The only player who saw limited action on the line last year is left tackle junior Darius Collins (6-3, 275).
“That’s a big-time concern,” Fell said. “We have some skill kids, if we have enough time to get them the ball. … That offensive line is a work in progress.”
Taking over for tailback Juniel Liles (1,319 yards, 20 TDs) will be a pair of defensive backs from last year, sprinters Jaden Walker (99 yards, 1 TD) and B.J. Mays.
On defense, Eugene (E.J.) Smart (5-10, 310) returns at nose tackle. Joquavious Denson returns at end.
Linebackers Jaylin Thomas and Miguel Clark will anchor the five-man linebacking corps.
In the secondary, the junior Walker moves from cornerback to free safety. Walker had three interceptions and 70 tackles last year and was named third team all-state.
Mays returns at cornerback to give the defense six starters.
“We have to run to the ball and be physical,” Fell said.
The high-flying, Spartans’ offense averaged 47 points and gave up 28 a game last year.
“We feel real good about our offensive group, as long as our offensive line comes through like we think they will,” Fell said. “We put a lot of stock in scoring a lot of points, but we have to stop people on the defensive side.”
Reach Tom Usher at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Lima_Usher.