What was once a young, unproven batch of players at Calvary has matured heading into the 2012 season.
Calvary’s core group has led the Lions to the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
Now Calvary is back for more under the leadership of a new coaching staff.
New co-head coaches Bernard Daniel and Lionel Gillespie are set to put their stamp on a core group of players and build their identity not just as winners, but as champions.
“Any good coach would say you want to win a championship, but we are taking it one game at a time,” Gillespie said. “Winning the championship is the ultimate goal, but right now it’s about putting your team in the best position to win.”
Last season’s playoff run ended abruptly as the Lions surrendered nine touchdowns to Dallas Tyler Street running back Cristian Ponce, losing 68-44 in the first round.
Calvary will look to replicate Ponce’s performance by relying on a heavy ground attack with junior quarterback Justin Rush setting the mold with his play on the field and his attitude off it.
“Justin is the leader of this team and we expect him on every snap to make the right reads, encourage his teammates and also be able to set the tempo for this team,” Gillespie said. “He’s a great kid and a very intelligent kid. He knows his football stuff like the back of his hand, but at the same time he needs to know how to incorporate those things to game-time situations.”
The role of a quarterback in six-man football may be slightly different than a traditional 11-man quarterback, but Daniel thinks the position yields a certain type of character on any level.
“Any great team you see in college or in the pros has that leader at quarterback,” Daniel said. “If he leads, everyone else is going to follow. Ultimately, when things get rough, Justin will have the ability to rub off on his team. That’s what we are trying to instill in him. He knows he will naturally have to fill that role.”
Change surrounds the Lions with new head coaches and a move from TAPPS Six-Man Division II to Division I, but integrating a new offensive system while building a culture and rapport with the leaders of the team is something Daniel and Gillespie still work at, especially with Rush.
“He’s very competitive, but sometimes he does run a little low on gas and I believe that will grow with age and he’ll be able to push through those situations,” Gillespie said. “That’s why we ride him very hard.”
With Rush returning for his third year as a starter, Daniel and Gillespie are imploring their team to look toward Rush for leadership while insisting that leadership is a team effort.
“That’s what we are trying to get him towards, but not just him,” Daniel said. “We have Jessie Wells and Matt Hood. We have leaders that we need our younger guys to look to. It will definitely help take some of the pressure off Justin. Jessie and Matt are both seniors and they know what it will take for them to finish their high school career off on a high note.”
With most of last year’s starters returning, Calvary is again primed for a playoff appearance. The benefits of a new division and new coaches with new strategies will allow the Lions to take some teams by surprise, but success for this year’s team will hinge on a heavy dose of rushing and leadership.
District: TAPPS Six-Man, Division 1-2)
2011 record: 7-4 (4-3, TAPPS Six-Man, Division I, District II)
Co-Coaches: Bernard Daniel and Lionel Gillespie (First season at Calvary)
Returning starters: Five on offense, five on defense
Key players: QB Justin Rush, WR/RB/CB Jessie Wells, RB Matt Hood
School enrollment: 92
Stadium: Bronco Field
Keys to a historic season
Run the ball effectively
Previous Calvary teams showed a balanced attack of run and pass plays, but Calvary co-head coaches Bernard Daniel and Lionel Gillespie insist that it’s the combination of a heavy ground attack with a stout defense that will drive this year’s team. “That’s the great basis to every team,” Daniel said. “If you can set foot on the field and run the football down somebody’s throat, then you don’t even have to run your best pass play. It opens up so many things you can do.”
Adapt to a new staff
Calvary’s team chemistry is in a state of flux. The players are familiar with each other, but not the new offensive system. Daniel and Gillespie promise this year’s team will be built on intensity. “Right now we are an average team intensity-wise, but it will pick up because we are brand new coaches and we plan on dictating the intensity and mashing it into their heads that you have to be intense every single play to be a great team,” Gillespie said.
Start, finish strong
The Lions began last season on a blistering offensive pace, rattling off five straight wins, eclipsing the 50-point plateau each game. Calvary then finished the season losing three of their last five games, so they will need to be running on all cylinders late in the season to make it back to the playoffs for the third straight year.
Control the clock
After allowing 49.6 points per game last season, the defense must improve if Calvary is going to control the clock and lean on a dominant rushing offense. Daniel and Gillespie are hoping this strategy becomes synonymous with Calvary. “When people think of Denton Calvary we want them to think; they control the clock and they get their offense the ball back in a hurry,” Daniel said. “We want our offense to have way more plays than our defense.”