There is something about the start of district play that brings on an intensified focus.
The postseason isn’t far away now, and Lawrence High football coach Dirk Wedd noticed the subtle changes in his players the past few days as they prepared for their district opener against Leavenworth — 7 p.m. kickoff today at Lawrence.
“There’s a little bit more urgency in everything that we’re doing,” Wedd said. “You can kind of tell, the seniors especially, this is the third time they’ve gone through this.”
In fact, seven Lions seniors are three-year letter-winners: running back Jordan Brown, lineman Kharon Brown, receiver Drake Hofer, running back Tyrone Jenkins, linebacker Asaph Jewsome (out with an injury), receiver Erick Mayo and quarterback Brad Strauss.
That experienced core, Jordan Brown said, makes it clear to everyone else that Friday night outcomes carry more weight now, with four district teams (the Lions, Pioneers, Free State and Kansas City, Kan., Wyandotte) battling for two Class 6A playoff berths.
“Everyone knows that we could be done if we lose one game and slip up,” Brown said.
With a showdown against Free State (5-1, ranked No. 1 in 6A) looming two weeks away, Green admitted it’s difficult to not look ahead, but the Lions (5-1) have plenty of motivation to stay focused on the task at hand.
“If we don’t go in playing them 2-0 (in district), that game probably doesn’t mean much,” Green said.
Wedd said any of the four teams in District 1 have a shot at making a postseason run. Having won five straight, a stretch in which they haven’t trailed, the Lions have momentum heading into their Senior Night game against the Pioneers (3-3).
Leavenworth’s offense features the Sunflower League’s third-leading rusher, running back Jason Randall (769 yards, six touchdowns). Wedd said Randall is the latest in a line of “big-time” rushers LHS has faced this season, but Pioneers quarterback Judson Cole (725 passing yards, six touchdowns) also worries him, because Cole is cable of breaking contain and improvising.
“You’d be hard pressed to find better skill in any district,” Wedd said.
The Lions have no shortage of weapons, either. Strauss leads the league in passing yards (1,304, 13 touchdowns) and total offense (1,769 yards). Thompson (446 receiving yards) trails only Shawnee Mission East’s Connor Rellihan (573) in receiving yards and is joined by Mayo (360) and Hofer (321) in the top seven.
As a starting linebacker, Green said Lawrence’s defense wants to keep Randall and Cole contained and let the Lions offense do its thing.
“We’re all playing for the same goal: to get a state championship,” Green said. “We have to play at our best the whole time.”