Lions return to the gridiron after long delay

Junior Tyler Walton tackles sophomore Quinton Wash during a recent practice at Louisa County High School.

UPDATE: Due to concerns related to weather, the varsity football game has been moved to Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Charlottesville High School.

After waiting through an extended offseason, the Louisa County High School varsity football team is back on the field and getting ready to play. waiting through an extended offseason, the Louisa County High School varsity football team is back on the field and getting ready to play.

“The kids are hungry,” said head coach Will Patrick. “It’s been over 15 months since we tackled anybody.”

The Lions boast a roster of 38 players this year, with more than half of that number playing varsity football for the first time this season.

“It’s interesting, but also fun,” Patrick said. “I really, really like this group of kids that I have this year.”

Fourteen players return from last year’s squad, including sophomore quarterback Landon Wilson. Wilson was starting quarterback for Louisa throughout most of their 2019 season. A late-season injury caused him to miss the last few games of the season, but throughout the nine games he played he completed 58 passes for 921 yards and seven touchdowns and added three more scores on the ground.

Since the end of the 2019 season, Wilson has not only recovered from his injury, but Patrick says he’s also improved as an athlete.

“He’s improved his athleticism,” he said. “He’s faster [and] his arm strength has improved dramatically. He didn’t miss any of our workouts and he worked out some on his own too.

“He’s driven,” Patrick continued. “He’s very good and wants to leave a legacy. He’s still very young, but at the same time, he’s no longer a rookie. He played for me last year, and he knows what I expect of him. Not just physically, but leadership-wise.”

Wilson says he’s ready to step into a leadership role on the team this season.

“Last year, we had a lot of senior leadership, so I really couldn’t show how much I could lead,” he said. “This year, I’m going to showcase that more. It’s exciting, because as quarterback I should be a leader.”

Another big offensive weapon that’s returning this year is senior running back Kalup Shelton. Over the last two seasons, Shelton has tallied more than 1,500 rushing yards over 218 carries and scored 12 touchdowns. Entering his third season as part of the Lions’ running game, Patrick is looking for him to have a big year. 

“We’re really going to lean on him as our primary running back,” he said. “He’s been running the ball for me for three years. He’s definitely one of my more experienced players.”

Stepping into the offense for the first time is senior Logan McGhee, who will pull double duty as a wide receiver on offense and as an outside linebacker on defense. He started all 12 of the Lions’ 2019 games in the latter position, tallying 51 tackles, including 28 solo efforts, and breaking up five passes.

The Lions also return junior starters Stephen Dean and Jordan Smith, who Patrick says the team is “really going to lean on” this year, especially on defense.

Rounding out the list of returning players from last season are seniors Andy Proffitt, Jeremiah Madison, Damond Walker, Lowell Johnson, Try Sullivan and Cole Alberts; junior Hunter Atkinson; and sophomores Elijah Brooks and Qwenton Spellman.

The rest of the roster consists of a large batch of first-time players, including two seniors, 17 juniors, four sophomores and one freshman. Juniors Gabriel Thomas, Haden Freeman and Austin Libby will be stepping up as linemen for Louisa this year and Patrick is looking to their classmates Jacob Bundrick, Tyler Walton and Chase Miller to make some noise for the Lions as well.

One of the biggest challenges the Lions are facing as they work on getting ready for Monday’s season opener is the different climate from what they usually deal with during the preseason. The team has been dealing with snowstorms, ice, cold temperatures and a wet, muddy field over the past two weeks during practice. Patrick says he’s trying to keep the kids outside as much as possible to get them in the fresh air, holding practices on the high school’s tennis courts when he can’t get onto the practice field.

The players are taking it all in stride, and are just glad to be getting ready for their season.

“We’ve just got to adapt to what we’re getting,” Shelton said. “Not everything’s going to be perfect. We’ve just got to work around what we’ve got right now.”

The Lions open their shortened season on Feb. 22 with a home game against the Charlottesville Black Knights, the first of six games the Lions will play in their regular season, provided everything goes well. Patrick says he’s going to be approaching this season like he does every season – by taking it one game at a time and focusing on “controlling what we can control.”

“If we get all six games in, I’ll be ecstatic,” he said. “If we get one or two or three games in and something happens that I can’t control, then that is what it is.”

Kickoff for Monday’s game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

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