By VINCE PELUSO — firstname.lastname@example.org
As a 1992 graduate of Harbor High School and after five years running one of the more potent offenses in the Premier Athletic Conference at Chardon, perhaps no one is better qualified to turn around a struggling Lakeside football than new coach Frank Hall.
The Dragons have gone just 2-28 over the past three seasons, while Hall led the Hilltoppers offense to a 8-2 regular season and helped guide Chardon to a Division II regional semifinal.
Given the success he had with the Hilltoppers, Hall said the decision to leave wasn’t easy, but the opportunity to turn around one’s home team doesn’t come around often.
“I’m very excited, it’s one of those things, I’m excited and sad,” he said. “I come from a great place, I had five great years at Chardon. But it was a great opportunity here and a chance to come home and be a part of this school system, that I once attended, I’m excited about the challenge.
“The kids have the same kind of attitude and I really look forward to having the opportunity to work with them and help them become a better team.”
Hall believes the experience he got at Chardon, including last season’s postseason run, will be beneficial as he looks to help turn things around at Lakeside.
“It was a blessing to be able to go there and the people I met and learned from like Coach (Bob) Doyle, Coach (Mitch) Hewitt and Coach (Jim) DiPofi,” he said. “They all really taught me the game of football, how to teach men. Not only in sports, but working with Athletic Director Doug Snyder and our principal who taught me how to teach people, how to help people to become better.
“I love Chardon and they loved me. It’s a tough place to walk away from but I think I can really help things here at Lakeside and get a chance to come back home.”
Chardon was also where Hall learned that programs can be turned around.
“Coach Dole came to Chardon in 1979 when it had lost 30-straight games with the idea to win a state title and 14 years later, they did,” Hall said. “I’m not guaranteeing any state titles. But I’m guaranteeing we’ll work hard, the young men will be prepared for Friday nights and life and we’ll do our best to teach men to be young, upstanding citizens.”
One of the toughest challenges facing Hall as he enters Lakeside will be getting the Dragons to be competitive in the difficult PAC.
Hall is no stranger to success in that area as the Hilltoppers went 5-2 in the conference last season.
By contrast, Lakeside hasn’t won a PAC game since the Dragons defeated North 28-24 in Week 10 of 2009.
While former Lakeside coach Ryan David said he doesn’t believe the school can be competitive in the conference, Hall disagrees.
“I think the kids can physically stand up to the PAC week in and out, I really do think they can handle it,” he said. “What I think they need is a system. It’ll be a process and that process will start Tuesday when we start lifting. The process throughout the spring and summer is important, I think the bodies are there. Coaches throughout the league say the same things — the kids have talent there. They’ve just been missing the sustainability of a program for more than two years; you gotta have that.”
While Hall hopes to bring that sustainability to Lakeside, he will also hope to bring the success of Chardon offense he called.
“We’re going to be a based pistol, wing-T team,” he said. “Personnel will make a big impact on what we do, how much we run or throw depends on what we have and packages we bring in will allow us to do that. It’s a great system that I’ve learned from Coach DiPofi and Coach Gritt, from Chardon, it’s a system that works and I believe in. We’ll give it our best shot.”
Competing in the PAC has been an issue for the Dragons in recent years, but that might be a result of the lack of warm bodies on the sidelines.
Injuries have crippled Lakeside in recent years, leaving it with fewer than 30 healthy players for certain games.
Hall said building a bigger roster is at the top of his priority list.
“That’s No. 1 concern, we need bodies to be able to compete in the PAC, we need a full squad,” he said. “You can’t play nine or 10 kids both ways. You need as many one-way players as possible and how you do that is you build relationships with the best interests of kids in mind. If they listen to you, they’re going to be successful.
“If we can show that to the kids they’ll come out. Ultimately, winning helps, but we need to teach them to not only be successful in win column, but be successful in practice and teach them to practice fast and hard. That definitely needs to start with gaining trust and building relationships.”
As someone who has game planned against Lakeside in recent years, Hall said he believes Lakeside does possess the size and athletes to be a competitive team.
“The bodies they had last year were big, physical bodies,” he said. “You look at (Chuck) Morgan at middle linebacker was phenomenal, a hard and physical player. That’s the type of team we need to be. Unfortunately, last year probably came down to a numbers thing, so we need to improve on that.
“We need a solid system on offense and defense. It’s the process of the kids knowing it and starting on it in junior high and learning it more in freshman and JV. Then when they become juniors and seniors, they can get in there and get our plan in place. We need to have these kids start learning the correct way.”
Hall’s takeover of Lakeside begins this week.
He said there will be a meeting with the team today and they will start offseason lifting on Tuesday.
Coming with Hall from Chardon will be strength coach Ray Rico, another Harbor graduate.
“I’m real excited to get our offseason program started and that I’m bring in Coach Rico,” he said. “He’s got a great background at the University of Tennessee and Wake Forest’s strength program. He did a good job for us and he’ll get us moving in the right direction.
“The game has changed. There’s not a lot of two-back Power I anymore, it’s more about movement and being quick. We’ll work on our speed and being able to move and cover the whole field. We’ll spread the field and make teams cover us sideline to sideline. You’ll see that a lot.”
Hall’s hiring will set up an interesting matchup with Jefferson, where his oldest son Quincy plays.
“Quincy is a starting nose tackle for Coach (Jimmy) Henson so Week 2 is going to be a tough week, it’ll definitely be a house divided,” he said. “It’s going to be fun, though. I’m looking forward to it.”
While Quincy will remain a Falcon, his wife of six years, Ashley, and three other sons — Christian, Sean and Marc — will be going his way.
“The little guys like the Dragons, they enjoy the mascot being around,” he said with a laugh. “So I’m going to try get the little ones on daddy’s side.”