Lima Senior head coach Andre Griffin, with a year of head coaching experience under his belt, learned a lot in his first season and he expects to build on the successes and gain knowledge from the mistakes.
The one area he already is one step ahead is preparation. Last season, the Spartans and Griffin were still learning each other’s style and skill set so it took a while for the Spartans to hit their stride.
After opening the season 2-0, the Spartans dropped the next two by games by a single touchdown and cruised into the halfway mark at 3-2 with a win over Fremont Ross, 33-14.
That was the beginning of a three-game winning streak that was highlighted by an exciting 28-21 over Findlay. But the playoffs and the league title got away from the Spartans after dropping another one touchdown loss to St. John’s Jesuit, followed by a win over Oregon Clay, only to end the year with a heartbreaking, 35-34 loss to No. 1 ranked Central Catholic.
“We didn’t pick it up until about week five,” Griffin said. “We lost some games but we were playing pretty good at the end of the season.”
As he talks after the first week of practice, Griffin said you could see the significant change in this year’s approach to last year and how both the players and staff know what to expect.
“They know my voice,” Griffin said. “Most people talk about the players but the coaches. Being a first-year head coach they have never coached underneath me so they even know what I expect and you can see that I am not on top of everything. I am letting everyone do their thing.”
Even though Griffin said the expectation is to get off to a fast start nothing is guaranteed due to the tough schedule and seeing how the players adjust to their starting roles even though he returns 23 letterwinners and a wealth of talent.
Even though there are plenty of players ready to step up it is going to be hard to replace All-Ohio running back Jaden Walker who has graduated and moved on to Grand Valley State. Walker rushed for 1,512 yards and 18 touchdowns and caught 16 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns.
“We got playmakers all over the place,” Griffin said. “You can’t replace Jaden Walker. He was a 4.3 guy and one of the best running backs in the state but you have to go with a lot of people and that is what we are going to do.
Griffin took over the running back coaching duties to get a better feel for who he is going to start. Griffin adds that Xavier Nichols, who was primarily lined up in the slot position, will be moving to the back field for some plays, however, Griffin said a number of the slots, will be lining up as running backs. Last year Nichols had 15 carries for 44 yards. As a receiver, Nichols caught 18 balls for 278 yards and four touchdowns.
“We got some things in the plans that we are going to do with them and if they do it right we are going to have a good season,” Griffin said.
Receiver Keaton Upshaw was a first team, all-northwest Ohio selection, is expected to be a major target this year and possible game changer. The Kentucky bound receiver hauled in 48 catches
Also returning as receivers are Jaleel Long and Boppi White.
“We are going to move him around to get the best matchup with film study and then we will go from there,” Griffin said.
Behind the center, Adrian Mitchell returns for his senior year. Mitchell saw the bulk of the work as the Spartans’ signal caller after throwing for 1,537 yards and 13 touchdowns with 1o interceptions but also vying for some playing time will be Malik Hobson who saw limited action towards the end of the season.
“They are 1A and 1B and we have an open competition and hopefully they continue to compete,” Griffin said.
Griffin said he wants to present a balanced approach with his offense by first establishing the run and attacking with the pass downfield.
Defensively, the Spartans were prone to some big plays that hurt them in key situations but Griffin points out that this team actually cut down in points average overall. In three of their games the Spartans gave up 30 points but in four of those games, Lima Senior limited teams to 20 points or less four times.
Kevontae Tyson, who was a special mention All-Ohio honoree and was a first-team all-Three Rivers Athletic Conference selection, returns to bring stability to the defensive back field. Tyson recorded six interceptions and 47 tackles in 2016.
Anchoring the linebackers will be senior Zy’Shone Fisher and Griffin sees the defensive line, who he said was highly successfu last yearl, will see a revolving door of players getting playing time and contributing.
“We have lot of players out there and we should be able to do a good job on the defense side of the ball,” Griffin said. “We gave up big plays but we cut down seven points from a year ago so you have to look at the big picture. We gave up some big plays but we really didn’t in a lot of ways and we had big plays on our side of the ball as well.
Griffin said some work in the weight room by some of the players will help in stopping the run and said they seemed more disciplined.”
With some holes to fill on both sides of the ball, Griffin added that he enthusiastic that players are completing for jobs and competing against each other.
Griffin said his primary focus as the season approaches is the Spartans’ opener, Middletown, and then he will go from there.
“One game at a time,” Griffin said. “Middletown is first and then we go from there and hopefully we go from there. Definitely want to make the playoffs and the league but it is one game and one day at a time.”