Spartans seek to pick up where they left off

Seniors Kristopher Thompson (left) and Zyaire Elliott chat during last Thursday’s high school football media day in Dover. Delaware State News/Ben Heck

DOVER — Fred Johnson knew there would be some growing pains following Lake Forest High’s 2015 season.

After all, they had just lost more than 20 seniors to graduation from that eight-win season.

The Spartans football team went just 2-8 the following season, following it up with a four-win campaign in 2017.

“We knew it was going to be pretty rough for a couple years in a row,” Lake Forest coach Johnson said at last Thursday’s media day at Dover High.

“That season, I think we had 26 seniors, so when they graduated, I said, ‘it’s going to be a rough few years.’ But the kids stayed at it and we worked hard.”

Last season, the Spartans snapped that two-year losing streak by putting together a 6-4 season, including three consecutive wins over Henlopen Conference Southern Division opponents Seaford High, Laurel High and Milford High to finish out the year on a strong note.

Though they just missed out on a DIAA Division II playoff appearance, the progress of the program was evident.

“Last year we lost a couple close games and, if we would’ve won one more game, that would’ve put us in the playoffs,” said Johnson. “We finished on a strong note and the kids started playing hard and coming together at the end.”

Following a trio of scrimmages against Cape Henlopen High, Caesar Rodney High and Caravel Academy over the next few weeks, Lake Forest will open its regular season campaign at Polytech High Sept. 5. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.

The Spartans will open their home schedule Sept. 13 in a nonconference showdown with Tatnall School. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.

“We have a great group of guys returning, so we’re just looking forward to getting started and getting into the season,” said Johnson.

Of those returners, seniors and projected captains Kristopher Thompson and Zyaire Elliott played both sides of the football last season and will each do so again this year.

Thompson started along the offensive and defensive lines. He was also a leader both on and off the field.

Johnson says Thompson is one of the top students in his class, and isn’t afraid of challenging his teammates as a vocal leader.

Elliott, a running back and linebacker, was in his first season with the program as a junior last year after spending his freshman and sophomore campaigns at First State Military Academy.

He showed improvement throughout his junior year and is excited for an even larger role this season.

“Zyaire was an All-Conference linebacker for us,” Johnson said. “He really came on towards the end of the season and he ended up starting at both running back and linebacker for us. That’s always good and exciting when you have players who played both ways coming back.”

“I’m excited to take on a larger role with the team this year,” said Elliott. “Whatever helps the team win, I’ll do. Whatever coach needs me to do, I’ll step up for it.”

Both rising seniors hit the weight room often over the off-season and Elliott took advantage of Lake Forest’s participation in the New Castle County 7-on-7 passing league this summer. The Spartans were one of 20 schools to participate in the five-week league.

“Zyaire had a good year participating in 7-on-7, playing linebacker and covering guys, catching the ball out of the backfield and from the slot position,” said Johnson. “Overall, we had a pretty decent year with 7-on-7 this year.”

Though he’s a lineman and is unable to participate in 7-on-7, Thompson made sure to put in weight room and conditioning work with his teammates over the summer.

“A lot of us workout every day, or at least three or four days a week, in the weight room,” said Thompson. “Even if everyone can’t make it, we’re still all lifting and getting faster and stronger.

“That’s one of the big things we push over the summer. You have to be stronger than your opponent, you have to outwork your opponent.”

Though the team is just hitting the field for its first practice today, Thompson was already excited about the team chemistry of this year’s group after seeing how well they got along over the off-season.

It’s one of the aspects he’d like to see improve the most compared to last year’s team.

“I just feel like we need to be closer than we were last year,” he said. “Even though a lot of us are friends, last year it wasn’t as close-knit a family or team as I would’ve liked it to be. If we work together and talk through stuff that we didn’t last year then we’ll be better.”

Reach staff writer Ben Heck at bheck@newszap.com

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