Lisbon quarterback Lucas Francis takes a snap during Thursday’s practice. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
LISBON — They started preseason practices at 7 a.m. on a small field that is more mowed down weeds than it is grass.
Insects gnaw at their ankles, and they’re wearing all black as they practice twice a day in the summer heat and humidity.
Rough conditions, for sure, but this is Lisbon, where the Greyhounds take pride in such things.
“Lisbon football: Hard-hitting, sunny days, hot weather,” senior quarterback and linebacker Lucas Francis said.
The Greyhounds, coming off a 7-2 season that ended with a loss to Winthrop/Monmouth in the Class D quarterfinals, enter 2018 with high expectations and plans to play their signature physical style of football.
Francis is back for a second full season as the starting quarterback. He was the major force in the run game last season, and might be again, but the Greyhounds plan to use senior Isaiah Thompson and sophomores Daytona Mciver and Cam Bourget nearly as much.
Thompson is a big, physical runner, but, as he points out, “I got a little bit of speed, too.”
“Isaiah, he’s a tank,” senior offensive and defensive lineman Kane Strout said. “When he gets going, he can truck pretty much anyone. He hits that hole hard, everyone makes their blocks, he’s going for a touchdown.”
While the run-first identity remains intact, Francis said Lisbon will try to throw the ball more this season. The probably won’t be balanced, but they’ll be more balanced.
“We’ve been known for a pretty good run game,” Francis said. “Our run game’s always going to be good, but I think we’re going to have more trust in the pass game this year. I think we’ve got some good receivers.”
Those receivers — including Robbie Dick, Seth Leeman, Issac Burnell — are showing the potential to be playmakers.
Second-year head coach Chris Kates said that Francis is a better quarterback this year, particularly when it comes to the pass game.
“I think the biggest thing with him is just taking that next step as a quarterback,” Kates said. “Last year, I mean, he was just kind of a running back that was playing the position, but I think what we’ve been working on this year is getting a little more confidence in his pass reads, being a more complete player back there.”
This offense will operate behind an offensive line that returns some experience but doesn’t have the size of last year. However, it should be more athletic and versatile.
“We’ve got some big guys, but also we’ve got some smaller but more muscular guys,” Strout said. “If you’re pulling, you definitely hit the hole faster, blow the guys up, then that makes your running backs hit the hole faster, too. Speeds up the whole thing.”
The defense is loaded with experience, with four seniors on the line, two defensive starters at linebacker and three defensive backs who played significant time last year.
The defense also is faster and a year wiser in Kates’ system, which has players flying to the ball from all parts of the field.
“We have an unselfish defense,” Kates said. “It’s not really who the strength is, as long as we’re all doing our jobs, different weeks we’re going to have standouts from different position groups every week. It depends on how the offense wants to try and attack us.”
The Greyhounds finished third in Class D South last year, but have their eyes on the top spot, and more, in 2018.
This is, remember, still Lisbon football.
“All the way,” Francis said. “That’s what you expect every year. If you don’t come out here thinking, you know, you’re going to go the distance, then why come out?
Lisbon football coach Chris Kates talks with Isaiah Thompson after a play during Thursday’s practice. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
Lisbon football coach Chris Kates watches a play develop during Thursday’s practice. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
Lisbon football coach Chris Kates orchestrates a play during Thursday’s practice.(Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)