LAKE PLACID - For the first time in a long time the Lake Placid football team has the talent to compete for a district championship.
Lake Placid went 3-7 last year, but with a solid nucleus of returning players and a dramatic change in the teams they compete against in Class 4A-District 6, expectations are high for the Green Dragons this season.
"We're excited about the season," said sixth-year Lake Placid football coach Jason Holden. "We've got a great group of guys back from last year and if we can stay healthy we have a chance to make a run at the district title and qualify for the state playoffs."
The last time the Green Dragons made the playoffs was in 1998, but with their district now consisting of Avon Park, Clewiston and LaBelle, instead of Fort Myers Dunbar, Sarasota Booker and Tampa Catholic, their chances are much improved.
"The district is much more competitive now and any team in the district has a shot at making the playoffs," Holden said. "We have 16 guys back from last year and most of them played quite a bit."
Lake Placid is led by senior quarterback Robert Walton who has the ball-handling skills necessary to operate the Wing-T offense the Green Dragons utilize.
"Robert is starting his third year and really takes his position seriously," Holden said. "He's a hard worker, he studies and is always trying to get smarter. "We utilize a lot of misdirection and fakes, he handles the ball well, has great footwork and is faster than he looks when he's running the ball.
"He has a strong arm and has really improved his passing skills."
Lake Placid is loaded in the backfield with a bevy of talented and versatile runners who understand the timing necessary to make the Wing-T offense effective.
Senior Jerry Fields, junior Foster Walker and senior Eldon McKenzie are the wingbacks and each player has his own style.
"Jerry is smart, understands the game and has excellent speed," Holden said. "Eldon is very strong and has good speed and Foster is a slasher with quick feet."
Senior Marquavein Copeland is at fullback for the Green Dragons.
"Marquavein is a powerful runner with surprising speed," Holden said. "We love his speed between the tackles for our inside running game because it keeps the defense honest.
"Last year teams would stack the ends to keep us from running wide and if they do that this year we'll gash them inside and they'll be chasing Marquavein all the way to the end zone."
When Lake Placid throws the ball, wide receivers Alec Sassin, Nick Tuason and Issaihha Velazquez will be the primary targets,
"All three guys have good speed and soft hands," the Green Dragon coach said. "We also have some quality guys to back them up and we want to run the ball, but we want to have the ability to keep the defense honest with a solid passing game."
For Lake Placid to be successful running or throwing, a veteran offensive line anchored by senior center Johnny Taylor, right guard Jarrod Thorpe, right tackle C. J. Wilson, left guard Malachi McLean and left tackle Nathan Gibson will have to pave the way.
"We have four starters back on the offensive line," Holden said. "This is the biggest and strongest offensive line we've had since I've been here and that should help us run the ball effectively.
"All of them have quick feet, good speed and have developed a good chemistry."
For Lake Placid to reach its goal of making the playoffs, the defense, which will use a 4-3 alignment, must step up and limit big plays and keep points off the scoreboard.
With only 28 players on the varsity roster, using players both ways is a necessity for the Green Dragons.
"We don't have the depth I would like, so a lot of our guys will play on offense and defense," Holden said. "That makes them more prone to injury, but it's something we're used to dealing with."
The defensive line is formidable and the linebackers are a solid group with McLean, who is the strongest player on the team, in the middle of the defense and Copeland on the outside.
"Our defensive line needs to take on the blockers and allow our linebackers to make the plays," Holden said. "We have good speed and we're playing a more attacking defense this year.
"We want to get in the backfield and disrupt the offense before it gets going."
Lake Placid hosts Okeechobee at 7 p.m. on Friday in its Kickoff Classic before traveling to Celebration for its season opener on Aug. 30.
"We've had a great three weeks of practice," Holden said. "We're looking forward to playing Okeechobee on Friday night and seeing how our guys react in a game situation.
"If we play up to our capability and stay healthy, this could be a special season for Lake Placid."