Change is in the air again at Lima Senior, starting with the coach’s office.
Former Lima Senior standout Alphonso “Biggie” Townsend became the eighth head football coach the Spartans have had in the last 20 years when he was hired in February. He replaced Andre Griffin, whose coaching contract was not renewed after a 15-25 record in four seasons, including 3-7 last year.
Leonard Rush, who retired in 2000 after a state championship, 14 winning seasons in 17 years and six trips to the playoffs, was followed by Matt Kemper, Bob Wolfe, Rick Vaughn, Darnell Collins, Brett Lee, Mike Fell, Griffin and Townsend.
Fell’s teams from 2013 to 2015 and Griffin’s first team were the only ones with winning records since 2000. The 2013 team was 5-5, the 2014 team went 8-3, the 2015 team finished 9-3 and in 2016 the Spartans won six games.
Townsend is optimistic Lima Senior could win often enough to be able to be relevant in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference after winning just one TRAC game last season.
“This year’s team seems to be very promising. We’re getting better every day. We should be very competitive in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference, like five years ago,” he said.
Lima Senior has 10 returning players who started last season. E.J. Cameron is a three-year starter at quarterback. Camren Miles, who was a starter at slot receiver last season, and Kamar Johnson will be the running backs.
Cecil Benton Jr. and Isaiah Funches-Foster are returning starters at wide receiver. Benton is a versatile athlete who caught as many as 10 passes in a game before becoming the starting quarterback and leading Lima Senior in rushing in its last two games last season when Cameron became ineligible.
Offensive linemen L.J. Layson and Matthew Minor are also returning starters. Defensively, linebacker Marcus Brown, who had 68 tackles and five sacks last season, and Jerome Daniel and defensive back Davarus Young are back.
Wide receiver Dongal Calhoun and defensive back Diante Griffin were not starters but lettered last season.
The list of notable players lost from last year’s team starts with defensive lineman Brandon Taylor, a Penn State recruit, who was Division II second-team All-Ohio and first-team All-Three Rivers Conference.
Offensive lineman Adrian Bowsher, a first-team All-TRAC selection also graduated, as did running back Jawan Anderson, who was second-team All-TRAC. Defensive lineman Caymien Durr, a second-team All-TRAC selection, is also gone.
Miles, Benton and Funches-Foster received honorable mention on the All-TRAC team.
Those three will be two-way starters and so will Layson and Minor on the defensive line. And even more players could end up playing both offense and defense.
Townsend said, “You’ve got to have the 11 best kids on the field all the time. We definitely have speed at our skilled positions, like wide receiver and defensive back. E.J. Cameron and our offensive line have improved and Dongal Calhoun will add depth to our wide receivers.
“We need to be more consistent on finishing drives offensively and avoid multiple penalties. Defensively, we need to line up right, do our jobs and get to the ball quickly,” he said.
Penalties were a season-long issue for the Spartans last year. They had 14 penalties for 125 yards against Toledo St. John’s, 13 penalties for 136 yards against Riverside, 13 penalties for 125 yards against Fremont Ross and 12 penalties for 120 yards against Toledo St. Francis. There were only two games in which Lima Senior had fewer than eight penalties.