By VINCE PELUSO
SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP —
Change is a popular word at Lakeside these days since the Dragons hired Harbor High School graduate and former Chardon offensive coordinator Frank Hall to lead their football program.
And change is exactly what Hall plans to do as he spoke about the future of his program during “Meet Frank Hall Night” at the Lakeside High School library on Tuesday night.
There are plenty of things Hall needs to change, such as the Dragons’ record, which is 2-28 over the past three seasons.
Also in need of change is the lack of players in the program — it wasn’t uncommon for 30 or less players to be wearing a Lakeside uniform on Fridays in recent years.
So far, Hall has the numbers up, whether or not the wins follow won’t be determined until the fall, but for now, there is plenty of reason to be reason to be optimistic.
“We just finished the eighth week of our lifting cycle and time is going fast,” he said. “We’ve consistently had between 35-40 kids in the weight room. It’s been very encouraging. The support so far has been fantastic.”
Hall certainly has the pedigree and passion to succeed at Lakeside.
He has spent the past six years running an successful offense at Chardon and has been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time.
“When I was younger, I had a dream,” Hall told a group of Lakeside supporters on Tuesday night. “I wanted to buy a house right next to Harbor’s stadium. Then, I wanted to be the head football coach at Harbor High School. And when I died, I wanted to be buried under the stadium.”
Hall didn’t quite get his wish as Harbor combined with Ashtabula High School to form Lakeside in the fall of 2001, but that doesn’t diminish the opportunity for him.
“If I’m coming to the stadium and driving down Route 20, I want to go all the way around just so I can come down the hill and see the lights, it’s just an awesome sight,” Hall said. “I’m so proud to be in charge of that field this fall.”
It’s normal for a new coach to have support right after being hired, but the support behind Hall from Lakeside feels distinctly unique. Why? Because, it feels genuine.
“We know we need change and part of the reason we are is because of you,” Amy Nagle, co-chair of Saving Freshmen Sports at Lakeside, said, gesturing to Hall. “We are 100 percent behind you, Frank. We believe in you.”
The Saving Freshmen Sports program is an important group for Lakeside’s football success as they battle to keep freshmen sports alive at the school.
They are selling “I Believe” T-shirts for $10 a piece and will have a charity basketball game at Lakeside on Friday, April 12.
Others that spoke Tuesday all talked about fundraising, something Hall knows is vital to the success of the program.
“I apologize, it’s just the nature of the beast now,” he said of asking for financial support for his team. “I know a lot of us are on hard times right now, but we’re trying to raise this money for your pride and joy — your kids. We are going to battle for your kids.”
Lakeside Athletic Director Rob McGruder certainly believes that Hall represents a step in the right direction for the football program.
“We’re real excited to have Frank here,” he said. “I’m real excited about the direction of the program. It’s been great to have the football coach in the building. You can already see the change.”
There’s that word again, change.
Hall believes in it and has plenty of ideas in store for it.
The first-year coach is starting a “Dragons Way Kids Club” that will help support the elementary school program.
“On Thursdays, each player is going to have a elementary school student as a recess buddy and they’re going to play with them during recess,” he said. “We’re also going to have a reading contest. The winner will get recognized at the game on Friday.”
Perhaps Hall’s most noticeable change to the outside observer will be Lakeside’s helmets this season.
“Ohio State fans brace yourself, this is going to be our helmet this year,” Hall said, holding up a picture of the new Dragons helmets, which will feature Dragon wings, more recognizable as the wings on Michigan’s helmets.
The wings idea goes to the “Earn Your Wings” program Hall is starting.
“It’s Dragon wings,” he explained to a few skeptical Buckeye fans. “The idea is that we are going to build it up to something special so that when you finally put that helmet on your sophomore year, that helmet with the wings, you’ll have earned your wings.”
For the record, the helmets don’t actually look like Michigan helmets and that logo is fairly common around the state of Ohio, used for years by the Niles Red Dragons in Trumbull County for a nearby example.
Hall spoke Tuesday about not just influencing his players’ football careers, but also their lives.
He explained that he will teach his coaches before the season starts that they need to understand that the players they are coaching are someone’s, “pride and joy. Someone’s son. We don’t want to just teach football lessons. We want to teach life lessons.”
Hall’s message is important, and true, but changing things won’t always be easy.
“I understand that it’s probably going to get worse, before it gets better,” he admitted.
Tuesday was one of those days.
Lakeside was going through its normal offseason conditioning and Hall liked what he saw for the first hour from the 35-plus kids in the weight room.
But, in the final 15 minutes, things regressed.
“Today, we took a step backward,” he said. “The kids were getting after it then the final 15 minutes, we kind of reverted back to our old habits. We started questioning things. So I threw everyone out of the weight room. We are a team and if one is wrong, all are. We drew a line in the sand today.
“Some are probably going to cross that line and they won’t be with us. But for the ones that do stay, they will be better men for it.”
Days like that aren’t unusual for any team five months before the season starts and Hall has certainly shown his team what will be expected of it come August.
Prior to that, he looks to prep the Dragons with several 7 on 7s against the likes of Perry and Howland, among other teams.
That, in addition to the discipline he’s currently instilling, will hopefully lead Hall’s team to his ultimate goal.
“We want to get to the playoffs,” he said. “We want our players to be seen so they can get to the next level and get exposure.”
That would certainly be a positive change for a program that has made the playoffs only one, in 2002.
Peluso a sports writer for the Star Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.