Lake Forest football looking to bounce back in 2017

FELTON – Last season’s 2-8 season was a bit uncharacteristic of Lake Forest’s football program.

Head coach Fred Johnson knows this.

In 2015, Lake Forest went 8-2 and made a DIAA playoff appearance. A year before that, the program went a perfect 10-0 in the regular season.

Last year’s two-win season snapped a three-year playoff streak.

Entering this fall, coach Johnson looks to get his program back to playing Lake Forest football.

In fact, the future looks to be pretty bright for the young Lake Forest squad.

“So far, everything’s been going pretty well in practice. The kids have been working hard,” said coach Johnson. “We have a young group that came up, and a couple of those kids will probably get some playing time this year. It’s a pretty good freshman class.”

In addition to the strong freshman group hitting the high school level this year, Lake has a lot of varsity players returning from last season.

Coach Johnson and his Lake squad have been working hard this month heading into the team’s Sept. 8 season opener (The Chronicle/Ben Heck).

With just eight players graduating, the Spartans have a hefty group of incoming seniors for this season who made contributions to the varsity squad last season.

Offensively, Lake struggled to put points on the board against opposing teams last season.

As a junior, quarterback Desaun Bizzell saw the majority of varsity snaps last year. He’s made improvements over the off-season, but there’s a bit of a quarterback competition going on in practice.

“Bizzell played a majority of our games last year, and he spent some time in the weight room this summer so he has a lot more confidence,” said coach Johnson. “He’s a little stronger, bigger, more confident. We also have junior Shyron Salandy. So, it’s good that we have a quarterback competition going on right now. Shyron is such a good athlete, that if he’s not the starting quarterback he’s going to be on the field, somewhere, getting the ball.”

There’s also a number of guys who are competing for playing time at the running back position.

Seniors Nick Lane and Elle Harden will lead the way for Lake’s run game, but freshman Isaiah Johnson could make an immediate impact for the Spartans as well.

“We all know what we need to do on the field, so I think we’ll look pretty good this year,” Lane said. “We’ve been practicing hard and pushing each other hard out there so far. We’re all pretty competitive.”

With Cameron Lewis gone, it’s senior Xavier Owens’ turn to be the No. 1 target in the passing game.

“I was his backup last year,” Owens said. “He’s a big 6’4”/220-pound guy, and he’s playing college ball now (at a junior college in North Carolina). So, it was a really good learning experience, playing behind him. My goal is to do as well as he did, or better.”

Owens is ready to step up and be a leader on both sides of the football, as he’ll likely be the go-to target on offense and will also start at middle linebacker on defense.

“We’re looking really good. We have a lot more charisma out there, everyone’s more competitive out there this year and we’re all listening to the coaches and soaking everything in,” Owens said of practice. “Two wins, that’s not in Lake Forest football’s blood. When you go 2-8, you have two options. You can either bounce back and make it to the playoffs or you can just have another bad season. We’re definitely on the up rise this year.”

Defensively, coach Johnson isn’t worried one bit.

“Xavier was an All-Conference linebacker last year, and he really spent some time in the weight room this summer as well,” he said. “We’re pretty sound on defense. Our whole secondary is returning, they’re going to be pretty good. We lost one true starter on defensive line (Jordan Springer) and then an outside linebacker (Lewis), but we have some kids who are really going to step up in those positions.”

Just the right mix of veteran leadership and talented underclassmen could be exactly what this Lake Forest program needs to bounce back from last season’s two-win campaign.

Lake will open the 2017 season with a home game against Wilmington Friends Friday, Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. on their brand-new turf field in Felton.

Sports Editor Ben Heck can be reached at bheck@newszap.com.

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