Business as usual: Young LHS defense building on longstanding foundation
photo by: Conner Becker/Journal-World
By late September, the buzz surrounding Lawrence High football makes its way into hallways, across cell phone screens and onto the family dinner table. Some teams allow that chatter to continue longer than others, some don’t hear it at all.
And this season, LHS (3-1) inspires as much conversation as ever. Hard to ignore from that discourse is the Lions’ young defense, which includes 11 of the team’s 17 sophomores, and whether it can work out the midseason wrinkles for a lengthy postseason run.
The handful of seniors on the defensive side of the ball say it can.
“There’s a lot of guys who want to be here,” senior Zander Thomas said. “Especially in the late fall and early winter when it’s 40 and 30 degrees outside and those guys are on the sidelines, they might not be playing, but they’re still part of the family.”
Those are credible words, considering just how much time Thomas and the other 14 seniors have spent around the LHS football program and third-year head coach Clint Bowen.
Bowen, a longtime assistant at Kansas and Lawrence native, runs a tight ship at his high school alma mater. Regardless of their year in school or the name on their back, Bowen puts his teams through a detailed, growth-driven system each year.
“It really translates to the field,” sophomore safety Josh Galbreath said. “If you’re late for class, you’ll most likely be late for practice; if you don’t get good grades, you can’t play out on the field … Get your job done, it helps the team.”
Routinely being involved with and around the school’s facilities builds a sense of shared identity, breaking down barriers between players and keeping them disciplined simultaneously, senior tackle Will Hendricks said.
“You feed off the other guys that know what they’re doing,” Hendricks said. “It’s about setting a precedent that when we come out here, we’ve got to get work done.”
Early into this season, some of those long hours paid off.
Galbreath, currently the team’s leading tackler (45), is one of those young players who blazed onto the scene during Week 2’s home opener when he blocked a punt returned by fellow sophomore defensive end Devin Foster for a 25-yard touchdown.
Now, the names “Galbreath” and “Foster” are being uttered regularly on Friday night radio broadcasts.
“Even conversations with my family are a little different,” Foster said. “It feels more real … This is my opportunity to go and play at the next level because right now is where I get to really make my family proud.”
Enriching the high school experience is the ultimate goal for Bowen and LHS. Through football, LHS is raising the standard of character and morals each player is taking with them back into the classroom the next week — as Galbreath referenced, and as his younger teammates are learning too — even if they don’t end up in the win column on Friday night.
The next few seasons look bright for the younger wave of Lions; however, that future may include reclassification for the longstanding 6A school.
On Monday, KSHSAA’s annual reclassification release showed that LHS enrolled 1,492 students for the 2023-24 school year – 302 less than cross-city foe Lawrence-Free State and just 158 more than the highest-enrolling Class 5A school, Emporia.
“Lawrence is going through a lot of change, but I still think there’s a lot of school pride in this place,” Bowen said.
“It’s always hard for young kids,” he added. “I think it’s a huge step for younger players when that light comes on and you show up to practice with an absolute purpose to get better that day and they’re getting there. They’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.”
Enrollment numbers may change, but the Lions’ brand of football is here to stay.