Lake Forest seeks to end 3-year playoff drought

Zyaire Elliott, an All-South selection at linebacker, was a two-way starter last season and could get the bulk of carries on offense. Delaware State News file photos

FELTON — After finishing one win shy of a DIAA Division II state tournament berth last season, the Lake Forest High football team is aiming to make its return to the playoffs.

The Spartans won their last three Henlopen Conference Southern Division games to finish 6-4, marking their third straight season missing the state tourney.

Coach Fred Johnson hopes his team can build off last year’s momentum when the Spartans open at 7 p.m. Thursday at Polytech.

“I think we’re a little bit ahead of where we were this time last year,” said Johnson. “We have a lot of good athletes, and when you have a lot of good athletes, that creates competition. And when you have competition, that creates a better product.”

Junior Damian Galindez takes over the starting quarterback role with the graduation of Shyron Salandy. Galindez started for the junior varsity as a sophomore and freshman team two seasons ago.

“The most important thing we’ve done this offseason is, when we had the weight room open, we had a lot more guys in there compared to last year,” Galindez. “Everyone is improving.

“We participated in 7 vs. 7 this summer. I’ve been out here with the running backs and wide receivers getting some work in. I feel like we just really want it this year.”

Galindez recognizes that the game is much faster at the varsity level but has adjusted during preseason practices and scrimmages. Having run the same offense during his previous two seasons, he is already familiar with what Johnson wants to do with the ball.

Isaiah Johnson was a threat every time he touched the ball until suffering a season-ending injury in Week 5 against Indian River. He racked up more than 400 yards on the ground in five games.

“He’s done a good job,” Johnson said. “The game is a lot faster, and he understands that now. He understands there’s still a lot to learn, but he’s athletic and he’s a tough kid, so he’s going to be fine.”

Four of the five offensive linemen return, and seniors Zyaire Elliott and Dylan Auen and junior Isaiah Johnson will anchor a strong group of running backs. Junior Mike Brown and sophomore Jalen Morris return to the backfield as well.

Elliott, an All-South selection at linebacker, was a two-way starter last season and could get the bulk of carries on offense.

Johnson was a threat every time he touched the ball until suffering a season-ending injury in Week 5 against Indian River. He racked up more than 400 yards on the ground in five games.

Morris is listed at receiver, but Johnson says they like to line the speedster up in the backfield as well.

One of Lake’s newest weapons on offense is tight end and outside linebacker Nathan McGray, a senior who is entering his first season of football. Johnson is excited about what he’s seen from him so far and expects Galindez’s newest target to make an immediate impact.

“He catches everything,” said Johnson. “He’s a big guy, he’s athletic, we can put him at tight end. He’s going to be a two-way starter.
“It’s a big surprise. We were like, ‘Where did this kid come from? Why didn’t he play before?’ We’ve always worked on him, and he finally texted me this year and said, ‘Coach, I’m playing football.’”

Morris and senior Malachi Moore are expected to join McGray as weapons in the passing game.

Two-way senior lineman Kristopher Thompson will captain a promising defensive unit. Thompson and fellow seniors Wade Brooks and Jayson Harris anchor the defensive front, and seniors Byron Freeland and Nashiem Little and junior Zach Kennedy will likely also make an impact along the line.

At linebacker, Lake has a strong core of five starters in Elliott, McGray, Auen, junior Curtis Spencer and senior Taj McNair.

Lake has five or six players who could be used in the secondary, including Moore, junior Nakiem Scott and senior Cezar Garland, which is more secondary depth than Johnson’s teams have enjoyed recently.

Senior Kade Collins returns as placekicker following his game-winning 32-yard field goal with seconds remaining against rival Milford to end last season.

“We’re just going to take it one game at a time and try to improve each week,” said Johnson.

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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