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PREP FOOTBALL

Lincoln football making huge strides into 2015

Last season is history
By: Jim Linsdau of The News Messenger
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When Lincoln News Messenger Sports introduced Lincoln High football head coach Chris Bean last season, the affable head man was beside himself with the prospect of leading the Fighting Zebras. This season, he is still beside himself, but both sides are now delivering high fives.

Bean had already missed five months of training when he took the reins in 2014. The team he inherited was not prepared for his upbeat system of play, mentally or physically. The result was a 1-9 season, but few had doubts that was going to change.

“Night and day; absolutely 100 percent night and day,” Bean said, describing the difference between this year’s team and last year’s injury-riddled group. “First of all, we had one of the great off seasons we could have asked for from January until now in the weight room.”

Not only have the Zebras had an extra five months to get ready for the 2015 campaign, Bean has also had a chance to make some changes. Some of the changes were unavoidable and some necessary.

Added to the coaching staff was speed and agility coach Cy Vada. Vada works with Del Oro in the mornings and then brings his talents to Lincoln in the afternoon. His efforts have already begun to show.

“He’s the real deal. He’s made a tremendous impact on our overall speed and agility,” Bean said. “The old saying ‘they are bigger, faster and stronger’ – in this case they really are.”

The Zebras’ head mentor welcomes a strong corps of sophomores, who will come in as juniors this fall. Adding that group to his returnees, Bean has nearly 60 candidates looking to don Lincoln pads.

He will welcome back quarterback Eli Garcia, who missed half of last season with an injury. The senior returns this year with a section baseball championship under his belt and a new attitude.

“Eli is still making that transition from a section championship to football,” Bean said. “It rubs off on (the others) to take it to the next level. Eli has definitely taken on that role.”

The boys in blue lost defensive coordinator Jack Hickey and line coach Kyle Grant. Both had obligations preventing their return. Coach Nathan Peach will move into Hickey’s role and newcomer Rob Anderson will replace Grant.

Key to this season, however, is how quickly Bean’s 2015 squad has assimilated to his style of play. He said his players already have their positions and required responsibilities well in mind.

“Last year, when we were going into plays, we were still stuck on formation,” said Bean. “This year, we’re running a no-huddle as fast as you can run a no-huddle and these kids have every understanding of what we’re trying to do with the plays.”

Bean said he put in the no-huddle offense recognizing that the Zebras will have to do things differently to win a section championship. He said it also helps to ingrain a philosophy necessary to become a section champion.

What Lincoln football fans will also see is platoon football. Bean said that allows players on both sides of the ball to concentrate on specific tasks and not a myriad of different ones. That means each practice will be player/position specific.

Although still early (academic eligibility was scheduled to come out Wednesday), Bean was not hesitant to name those he will be looking to for leadership.

On defense, he will look to Darius Bunger, a 6-foot, 176-pound defensive end. Bunger was injured last season, but Bean is high on this junior.

Cody Sharp, at 5-9 and 185 pounds, will also shore up the defensive line.

At linebacker, look for senior Jeffrey Jones (5-11, 190) to stop opposing runners in their tracks.

“Right now, I really like how the defense is fitting together in their respective responsibilities in their respective spots,” Bean said, adding that last year the defense did not have enough time to absorb the changes. “Just an understanding of what we’re trying to do on the defensive side as a whole.”

On offense, keep an eye on the 3-4 punch (jersey numbers) of Caleb Kettlehut and Tanner Keeler. Kettlehut, a 6-1, 170-pound wide receiver, will help give defensive backs fits. And Keeler will bring his 5-6, 150-pound frame out of the backfield at running back; both are seniors.

Joining Keeler will be Eli Cunningham. Cunningham, who transferred from Rocklin High last year, packs 170 pounds on 5-9 of muscle and runs with total abandon.

“He works hard; no doubt about it,” said Bean of the senior. “He pushes everybody else every day very hard. He doesn’t take plays off.”

Bean said his boys of fall are starting to mesh as a group. He and his players have no doubt they are headed nowhere but up.

“On paper, we like what we see,” Bean said. “There are so many good things that are happening with this program.”

LINCOLN HIGH FIGHTING ZEBAS

2015 Football Schedule

Aug. 8 – at Ponderosa, 7:15 p.m.

Sept. 4 – El Dorado, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 11 – at Nevada Union, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 – at Wheatland, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 25 – Union Mine, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 9 – at Colfax, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 16 – Center, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 23 – Foothill, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 30 – at Placer, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 6 – Bear River, 7:30 p.m.