This was not supposed to be discussed as early as it was.
When Robert E. Lee football coach Tim Finn sat down to talk about the recently completed season for the Ganders it was a sobering realization that he would have liked to have been speaking about an upcoming playoff opponent.
He never envisioned ending the season with a 5-5 record and no postseason trip in his three seasons with the REL program, which did enjoy its most wins since 2012.
“You have goals you want to reach, and I feel like this group worked really hard to reach them, but the whole attrition thing got us,” Finn said. “We wanted to crack that playoff world. They need to feel it to understand it. It’s a whole different mentality. When you hit the playoffs, you get a second wind. We need to hit that second wind to see what it feels like. It’s a neat experience I wanted them to have.
“This senior group we had had to grind as sophomores to keep the program on the field and I wanted more for them. But there are no guarantees.”
REL started strong with a 3-0 non-district schedule against team that finished a combined 10-18, but then District 12-5A II play began and the Ganders struggled to a 2-5 mark which was only good enough for sixth place – two spots out of a bi-district playoff spot.
“We went into the meat of our schedule healthy at 4-1 and we played a pretty solid game at PN-G,” Finn said of that loss. “Depth and health are critical to our program and that’s when attrition kind of got us.”
Finn started playing musical chairs after during the week of the 28-0 loss at Barbers Hill, when injuries started to take a toll.
“When we are at full strength, we are a pretty good football team,” Finn said. “We knew depth would be a big issue going in.
They ended the season with a disappointing 59-14 home loss to Crosby and without Keke Davis for a third straight full game.
“When you lose your deep snapper, your kick returner, your punt returner, safety, running back and leading rusher and receiver and it’s all the same person, you know depth is an issue,” Finn said. “The impact of that type of injury on a team that doesn’t have depth, it just magnifies our lack of depth.
“We were replacing All-District players with freshmen. That tells you where we are at in the program. We were maxed out at 35 players on the varsity roster.”
The Ganders only lose seven rotational seniors that made a huge mark on Finn and the program he wants to develop, including quarterback Ijenea Wooley, Elijah Partida, Billy Hayes and Rashad Futch.
“Some good and bad things happened,” Wooley said. “We didn’t reach the goals we set for our team. As an individual I didn’t play to my fullest this year. I can’t tell you why. I had to step up for the team, and losing Keke, if we still had him, we’d probably still be playing right now.
“There is no satisfaction at all, but I feel like the seniors next year are going to be even better leaders with more experience.”
Finn says that the experience his freshmen and sophomores earned will only come in handy while hopefully bringing back a senior class of potentially 30 next season, including eight starters on defense and seven on offense.
The program had 50 freshmen overall and 118 total in the program and with hopefully another first-year class of 50-60 athletes in 2020 could see the program numbers blow up past 150.
“As your program grows you hope to have 30 seniors, 40 juniors, 50 sophomores and 60-70 freshmen,” Finn said. “We need six to eight sophomores to be able to help us on the varsity and be at a stage where they can help us compete at the level we need to play at. We would like our freshmen to play on the freshmen team … and have a solid 40-man roster on the varsity.”
Three Burning Questions:
Who replaces Wooley at quarterback: “We have Jacory Boston who was a freshman playing receiver. He has the skillset to be a dual-threat quarterback.”
How do you keep building numbers: “We have the numbers now. If we can get the freshmen classes to 60-70, we are going to be fine as far as enthusiasm for Lee football. I see why people didn’t want to be associated with an 0-10 football team. Hopefully we proved that this is the place you want to be.”
How do you feel about your future classification plans: “Every level you step up, depth becomes even more critical because you face teams that have more bodies and one-way players. An injury affects our program more than others. We just have to do a better job of preparing in or off season. We are going to compete at whatever level we are asked to play in.”