The first season for any new head coach is without question a learning experience.
For Frank Hall, who is on the precipice of putting a bow on his initial season as head coach of the Lakeside Dragons as they head to Chardon for their 2013 finale, that is certainly the case.
The former Harbor High School great had greater expectations than Lakeside’s 3-6 (1-5 in the PAC) record it will take to Chardon’s Memorial Field on Friday night as he returns “home,” not only to where he was an assistant coach, but to the scene of his heroic actions last February with the tragic killings that took place.
“It hasn’t gone as I expected it to,” he said. “I thought we would win more games. With that being said, we started the season with 59 guys we are at 55 right now — that says a lot about the kids and their commitment to the program and each other. We didn’t lose any kids to grades this year that also says a lot.
“When it comes to the wins and losses, it’s been a tough year. It’s easy to have an excuse why, but actually, it’s easy to explain — we need to play harder and coach harder.
“That’s the bottom line.”
Last week, Lakeside took it on the chin in a major way against a battle-tested Madison squad of coach Tim Willis that is fighting not only for a share of the PAC championship Friday night against visiting league-leading Riverside, but also a spot in the playoffs. The Blue Streaks invaded Lakeside Stadium and made it theirs, prevailing, 37-0.
“Coach Willis has built a great program there; he has his kids bought into his style of football — tough, hard-nosed kids who want to come out and hit you,” Hall said. “We just aren’t there, yet. I think the kids understand what we want to do as a program, but it really takes time to get there on the field.
“As the head coach, it’s on me to get them there as fast as I can.”
Lakeside faces another tough task this week in Chardon. Coach Mitch Hewitt’s Hilltoppers (5-4, 4-2) prevailed at University School on Saturday, 35-14. On top of that, Chardon has dominated this series, winning 9 of 10 games, Lakeside’s lone triumph being a 42-13 win in 2009 at Lakeside Stadium.
The Dragons have not scored a point in the last two matchups, though, falling at Chardon in 2011, 63-0, and at Lakeside Stadium in 2012, 35-0.
“Chardon has great kids and great coaches,” Hall said. “The offense they run (the spread wing-T) can drive you batty, with all the misdirection and option they run. We need to stay home on defense and do our job.”
Hall has a good idea what must be accomplished by his Dragons on Friday night to come home to Ashtabula County with a victory in hand.
“We must play hard. We need to match Chardon’s effort,” he said. “We need to stay home and do our job on defense.
“And finally, we must take it one play at a time, win those battles, then move forward.”
With three wins this season, Lakeside has already surpassed its win total for the past three seasons combined. Still, Hall is the first to say there is plenty more work to be done.
“As a team, we need to learn how to play hard on every play,” he said. “Our offensive line was every young this year, so we need to learn from the lessons we were taught this year and get better.
“We must remember to use the technique we teach in practice in the game.”