By now, five losses into a winless season, the song is pretty much the same for the Lawrence High football team.
Each week in practice the Lions do what they can to improve, each Friday on game night they fight as hard as they can to compete, and Saturday mornings they wake up wondering what more they could have done.
In the case of injured seniors Jay Baker, Chase Billings and Dom Reiske — along with a handful of other would-be contributors to this year’s team — the hard-to-hear answer is: nothing.
Because of injuries, some that have marked the end of a high school career, a handful of the Lions’ most experienced players have been reduced to spectators on Friday nights, dressed in street clothes and forced to watch from the sidelines.
For Baker, a second-team All-Sunflower League selection as a junior and a starter since his sophomore season, the new role has been difficult to swallow.
“It’s really hard,” said Baker, a 6-1, 210-pound lineman, who has been nursing an injured back throughout the season. “There’s really nothing I can do. I tried to come back, and I came back too soon and probably shouldn’t have done that.”
Baker was injured in the first game, played in the second and has been in jeans ever since. Billings, a quarterback and safety who got a taste of varsity action during the final two games of last season, also had his once-promising senior year reduced to two games. For him, it’s not Friday night that’s the toughest part of being sidelined.
“To me, the hardest part is Saturday at film,” he said. “On Friday, I’m so busy watching the game and trying to help the guys who are out there that I don’t have time to think about how I’m not playing. Saturday is when that hits me.”
Billings, who’s out due to an injured knee, has run some scout-team offense in practice and has offered advice to any of the younger players who might want to listen. Baker has done the same, focusing mostly on his spot in the trenches while searching for teachable moments.
Both bleed red and black, and both take their new roles seriously, even if they’re not roles they like.
Tonight, when the Lions (0-5) travel to Shawnee Mission South District Stadium to take on the SM West Vikings (4-1), they’ll go through the motions one more time. They’ll look to stop the Vikings’ ground game, they’ll look to control the tempo of the contest with their own rushing attack, and, maybe, just maybe, this will be the night that the Lions come out ahead.
“We’ve got a shot every week if we can do that,” said LHS coach Dirk Wedd, whose team opened last week’s loss to Olathe South with a 19-play, 71-yard drive that spanned 11:07.
If nothing else, that drive proved to the Lions that finding a way to win — earning a victory — is still possible.
“I think we can do it. It sure showed last game,” Baker said. “It’s just about if you’ve got the heart and if you can finish. You have to go all out and not take plays off. The roster’s getting so small, we’re just not getting any breaks. But any team’s beatable. It doesn’t matter if they’ve got 11 Div. I starters, you just have to have the heart to do it.”