“I’m not going to just accept things anymore because we’re East Lawrence.”
That was head coach James Moore’s message to his team Tuesday afternoon. It’s a simple message, but it holds a lot of weight.
The reality is that it was going to take a lot to turn the East Lawrence football program around. Getting the players stronger in the weight room and improving their fundamentals on the field was just half the equation. The other half was overcoming the poor culture that has plagued the Eagles’ program for the better part of two decades.
“It comes up every now and then. We got rid of it last year and now it’s back again,” said James Moore. “One day you’re at the top of the mountain and the next day you’re at the bottom. It’s like everything is pulling against each other at times instead of together.”
East Lawrence competed in the annual FCA 7 on 7 tournament at Jack Allen Tues., July 23. The Eagles started the day off strong in pool play, finishing 1-1-1 (13-13 tie with Colbert Heights, 19-16 loss to Westminster and a 22-14 win over Falkville) and earning the third seed in their bracket.
Just a few drops and a couple of small mistakes kept them from being 3-0, and overall they looked sharp heading into the bracket play of the tournament.
Then things went downhill.
They started their first bracket game against Phil Campbell on fire with a defensive stop and a touchdown, but fell apart after that, dropping the game to the Bobcats and then losing again to Winston County in the consolation game.
It was a sour end to a day that had started with such promise.
So then what exactly does Moore’s message of not accepting things mean? Well, it means what it sounds like. The East Lawrence coach believes his kids are capable of doing big things, relaying to his team that 2019 could be one of the best seasons East Lawrence has seen in a long time. And that’s not just blowing air, he certainly has a point. The Eagles look bigger, stronger and faster than ever before and the feeling that they could do special things is certainly not just wishful thinking. The player’s belief that they can do those things is the next big step.
“I think we’ve got the talent and I think we’ve got the strength. Right now it’s all between the ears,” Moore said. “A lot of it is inexperience, you know, this was the first time these guys ever competed in a 7 on 7 like this. We played well this morning, but after lunch we just seemed to resort to bad habits.”
It’s a tough situation to be in. East Lawrence is a program not used to success. The Eagles haven’t had a winning season since 1997, and in the 21 seasons since that, they’ve had nine different head coaches with just one playoff appearance. For the math whizzes out there, unlike me, you’ll know that averages out to a new coach almost every two years. To put that in perspective, the AHSAA changes up their schedules every two years, which means the Eagles are averaging a new coach almost every schedule change.
So, to some it may seem like there’s no pressure, but in reality it’s just the opposite. The weight of carrying a streak like that can grow heavy and the pressure of fighting to end it can get high.
Now here’s the good news. It didn’t take long for the Eagles to receive Moore’s message.
East Lawrence traveled to St. John Paul II two days after the FCA tournament for another 7 on 7 tournament. The team that had finished the day two days earlier in Decatur was no where to be found.
“They came in with a completely different attitude,” Moore said. “We had to leave by 7 am and everyone was there by 6:45. There was no negativity, everyone was up beat, high fiving and we had no bad performances like we had Tuesday against Phil Campbell and Winston County. It was like a completely different team.”
The Eagles pulled in some solid performances, even defeating Westminster twice. The Wildcats were last year’s region champ, so, even though it was just a 7 on 7, it was still a big deal to them.
“They came ready to play. The game they played against Westminster was how I envisioned us getting to when I got here,” Moore said. “7 on 7 doesn’t mean a lot in the long run, but it was a big deal to them. They did things I haven’t ever seen them do and I was very proud of them.”
So did Moore’s message to his team finally click a light on? It’s too early to tell now, but it certainly adds a buzz as East Lawrence heads into fall camp.