BY WIL CREWS
“I don’t have starters, we have standards,” said Lee-Scott head football coach Buster Daniel at the fifth annual iHeart Media Days in Opelika on Tuesday.
Daniels enters year three in charge of the varsity Warriors — a program he took from 2-7 in 2021 to 8-3 and an appearance in the AISA Class 3A state semifinals in 2022.
Such a staunch turnaround from year one to year two can be credited to factors involving the pandemic, and the gained practice and weight room time the Warriors received before last season as health and safety restrictions were lifted.
“These guys have made a drastic turnaround at Lee-Scott,” Daniel said. “The first year, getting there after COVID, not being in the weight room for eight weeks, we were weak. Our season showed that; we went 2-7. These guys bought in, believed what we were teaching. That is all attributed to these guys. We can give them direction, but they got to do [the] work.”
Opposed to last year, when the Warriors boasted a roster of just 27 players and seven seniors, Lee-Scott’s team has grown in numbers to 48 in total. Additionally, the Warriors have an experience-laden group entering 2022, with 18 seniors and 16 returning players in total.
The added depth should provide Lee-Scott with valuable flexibility in terms of who lines up where on the field.
“We have outgrown our locker room, which is a good thing for us,” Daniel said. “Hopefully this year we can do a little bit of one of the two, where they can play either offense or defense. We have probably five guys who are going to play one side of the ball. That would help us tremendously.”
Amidst changes to the coaching staff, one of the biggest and possibly most influential changes to the Warriors in 2022 will be who lines up under center. Quarterback Ryan Dearing split duties with the now-graduated Tate McKelvey last season, and the former Auburn High player is eager to take the reins this year.
“I’m not coming in as much on defense opposed to just offense now,” Dearing said. “It’s kind of some pressure not having a dude behind me, but I’ll just give it my all and I know that the guys behind me are getting ready. Whatever happens game one, that will shape what happens throughout the rest of the year. I feel pretty confident; I think it’s going to be great year.”
Dearing was on the roster and played last year when Lee-Scott beat rival and AISA powerhouse Glenwood for the first time in what seems like ages. Daniel said that victory sparked his team to compile the impressive season it did in 2021, and did important things for the state of the football program.
“I’m finding out that [Glenwood] is Lee-Scott’s rival,” Daniel said. “We went into the game last year and nobody gave us a chance to win the game except us and these players. We decided we wanted to win and our guys did what they had to do to win the football game. Winning that game sparked our football team. They found out they could do it –– play with the big boys. That really made our season.”
Dearing’s presence under center won’t change much of the offensive structure according to Daniel. But there will be more opportunities to throw the ball downfield.
“We are going to run the same offense,” Daniel said. “It will look a little different because Tate was more of a runner; Ryan can do both. We are going into it looking to throw the ball a little more.”
Lee-Scott’s Class 3A division of AISA got reclassified this year, and now only eight teams reside in the entire class. This resulted in a region-full schedule which presents a new challenge for the Warriors.
“It’s going to be tough season,” Daniel said. “Our region is very strong, but I like our chances. I like the way our guys work, the time they put in and the mental attitude.”
The Warriors have recommitted themselves ahead of 2022. The experience on the field and desire to get better off of it are just a couple factors working in their favor if they want to repeat –– or even build –– on the success of last season.
We have really improved these past couple years,” one player said. “We are looking to go further this year, but we just have to keep our heads down and work week-to-week.”
Lee-Scott begins it season at Monroe Academy, Sept. 2. The Warriors will be hoping to get off to a better start in 2022 than 2021, as Lee-Scott fell to Chambers County, 41-3, in the season opener last year.
“We have been working all summer, hitting the weights, doing three times a week,” Daniel said. “They have done what they are supposed to do all summer to get to this point.”