By Dwain Spillman Jr, Journal Sports
CAMPTI – Sprinting out of the gate but slowed down the stretch. The Lakeview Gators earned early success out of the gate this season like a thoroughbred longshot in the Kentucky Derby.
The Gators carried a 4-1 mark into the district portion of the 2022 football season. Subsequently, the injury bug just became too infectious as Lakeview went 0-5 in District 3-2A, a league in which all five of the Gator opponents advanced to the upcoming postseason.
“We got off to a hot start this season and enjoyed some success,” Lakeview head coach Brandon Helms, who announced his retirement this past week to focus on his health. “We felt good about where we were. Then, injuries and attrition took hold, and we ended up really thin in the end.”
After dropping an opening heartbreaker to D’Arbonne Woods, 17-6, Lakeview recorded huge wins over annual rivals Montgomery, Northwood-Lena and LaSalle before scoring a road win against Delta Charter. The four-game winning streak is the program’s longest since at least 2009, which is the first season that digital schedules were available through the LHSAA.
At 4-1, the Gators were successful in moving some players to other positions, but Lakeview became just short of shell shocked as Gators succumbed to the constant physical strain of not coming off the field for much-needed breathers.
The most significant injury occurred very early when the Gators saw quarterback CJ Jones sidelined within the first three games. From there, it seemed that the Lakeview players started falling like storm damaged trees in the forest. That had a great impact on Lakeview’s hopes of advancing to the playoffs, and the Gators closed out the year at 4-6 and 0-5 in 3-2A play after a valiant effort.
“It was just a brutal schedule,” Helms continued. “We had success early and just couldn’t sustain it. Our issues with depth each week progressed and was a major factor. It was really a tough go for us during the last four weeks of the season. The district games really took a toll on us. It’s just a grind in our district. There’s probably not a better district at the 2A level in the state.”
What the Lakeview head coach was referring to specifically was that he ended up with nine starters playing on both sides of the ball by the time the district schedule hit the forefront. One Gator player recorded 1,300 snaps during the 10-game season.
As Helms concluded with his reflections on the season, the Gator boss man had nothing but praise for his players, especially his seniors. He expressed his pride and gratitude for all players but focused specifically on the efforts of Donovan Carries, Gevious Washington and Cameron Lewis.
“I am very proud of our group of seniors that just stuck it out,” Helms said. “They have been through so much and have worked and fought all the way through. They went through two years dealing with COVID and then us being very thin in depth this season. Those kids just kept playing, kept going, and I could not be more proud.”
CREDIT: Kevin Shannahan/NPJ Sports