LAGRANGE — Lakeland will enter the 2019 football season as inexperienced as it has been in a long while after losing around 20 players to graduation from a team that finished 6-4, 3-1 in the Northeast Corner Conference Big School Division, last fall.
Junior right tackle Jaron Fry is the only returning starter back on offense. He is one of five guys who started on defense last year.
“I’ve coached for over 30 years and I have never had a situation like this,” 15th-year Lakers coach Keith Thompson said. “We have a lot of new people figuring out where they fit.
“We’ll do what we do offensively while tweaking some things. Defensively, we’re more athletic than we were the last few years.”
Thompson has tried to get his team as game ready as possible in the offseason as it played against 12 other schools in scrimmages. That includes Elkhart Central, NorthWood and Northridge in a jamboree hosted by the Blue Blazers Aug. 16. It has helped Lakeland learn more about its roster and start to develop some depth.
“Finding depth will be a key,” Thompson said. “We have to gain consistency play in and play out and not take plays off. We have to have short-term memory.”
Lakeland will look to develop a new committee of running backs, led by senior Camryn Holbrook.
It has size up front on both sides of the ball, like it had last year. The offensive line averages as much as 259 pounds per guy.
Thompson looks for more overall productivity from his quarterback position than he has had in awhile. Junior Colton Isaacs will be the starter under center. Sophomore Mark Burlew could also see some action as well.
“Colton is a gamer. Mark is very athletic,” Thompson said. “They can do some things that haven’t been done in several years.
“We have two quarterbacks who can run pretty well, and we want to be a little more spread out. We want to get the ball to No. 18 (Holbrook).”
The Lakers will be led up front by Fry, junior Miguel Delapaz (6-foot-0, 275 pounds) and senior Jayce Riegling (6-2, 285). Newcomer Lincoln Ott (6-1, 285) is a junior who will also contribute in the trenches.
“(Miguel) played a lot as a sophomore. Jayce is athletic and can move,” Thompson said. “They are big, strong and physical. They are also nice kids. We have to find a mean streak in them.”
Thompson likes the athleticism his team has. Adjusting to the speed and physicality of varsity football will be important in helping Lakeland grow this fall.
Thompson hopes that leadership will establish itself sooner than later. The graduation of Coby Mitchell is a big loss in that regard. Mitchell is playing football at nearby Trine University this season.
The Lakers will open the season at Wawasee at 7 p.m.