Posted: Monday, August 13th 2012 at 9:41am
Football 2012: Lotti ready to lead Spartans on to right path
By Morgan Lee Editor
OAKWOOD -- Tony Lotti’s toughest job this season won’t lie in shaping his offenses and defenses.
The new West Hall football coach says the key to turning around his program will lie in his ability to change his players’ mindset.
“We have talent; the trick for us will be for the kids to believe that they’re as good as (I) see them to be,” Lotti said. “X’s and O’s are never the hardest part. It’s the intangibles that can make a bigger difference.”
West Hall football is looking to rebound under Lotti after three straight losing seasons and going without a winning campaign since 2002 (also the Spartans’ last playoff appearance).
Yet Lotti, who took over from Mike Newton (who was 12-38 over five seasons), says not to expect timid play from the Spartans in 2012.
“We’re going to take some chances; we’re going to be aggressive in all three sides of the game (offense, defense and special teams),” Lotti said. “That’s just my personality. And we’re starting over for the most part, so why not go for it?”
Indeed, West Hall features just nine seniors on the roster, and Lotti says just 10 underclassmen returned from the previous squad when he opened his inaugural spring practice.
Lotti has begun to stoke the fires of competition in Oakwood, however, and now has 60 players on his roster.
“We’ve had a good turnout all summer,” Lotti said. “I’ve got a three-year plan, and that starts with the kids buying in. The seniors, especially, have got to sell out and, so far, they have.”
Two of those seniors, offensive lineman Blake Manning and defensive lineman Damien Millsap, are the only players returning to their previous starting positions from a year ago.
That doesn’t mean the Spartans are without experience, but several returning players have changed positions after evaluations by West Hall’s new coaching staff.
That includes new quarterback Zach English, who played receiver last season. This year English will lead the Spartans’ multiple-I attack. He is joined by junior tight end Hunter Atkinson, who played offensive line in 2011.
Lotti says the Spartans will focus on running the ball behind a sizable front line.
“We have plenty of size up front; that’s probably the strength of this team,” Lotti said. “You need to tailor what you do to the strengths of the team, so we’re going to line up and run the football.”
Defensively, the Spartans will base out of a 3-4 and are looking at several new faces, including freshman safety Kwon Williams, to step up and play key roles. Lotti says that youth will be served throughout the Spartans’ set up -- though kicker and punter Connor Kirkland does return to bolster the special teams.
“We’re a very young team,” Lotti said. “I’ve coached a long time and inexperience is tough to get over, there’s no way to get experienced quickly. You just have to work through it.”
That said, Lotti is not shying away from the task at hand and is excited about getting underway.
WEST HALL: NEED TO KNOW
TEAM COLORS: Navy and Silver
CURRENT REGION: 7-AAA
HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Tony Lotti, first season
2011 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 2-8
KEY LOSSES: WR AJ Stephens (all-region 2011), LB Turk Taylor (all-region 2011), QB Chandler Newton (transfer), RB Rico Jones, DL Dexter Jackson (transfer)
OFFENSIVE STYLE: Multiple-I -- West Hall will focus on running the football, making use of the tight end and some of the size it possesses on the offensive line.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. OL Blake Manning, Jr. QB Zach English, Jr. TE Hunter Atkinson, Sr. WR Chase Jarrard
DEFENSIVE STYLE: 3-4 -- the Spartans will play with aggression -- in each phase of the game -- but especially on defense.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. DL Damien Millsap, Fr. S Kwon Williams
SPECIAL TEAMS: Jr. P/PK Connor Kirkland returns to kick for the Spartans.
STRENGTH: Size at the line of scrimmage -- West Hall hopes to make use of several imposing linemen to mash opposing defenses.
QUESTION: Youth -- With just 10 seniors and only two full-time starters returning to the same positions they played in 2011, West Hall will be learning on the fly in 2012.
KEY GAMES: West Hall opens the season -- a week early -- against archrival Johnson (Aug. 24) on the road. The “Battle of Oakwood” features two new head coaches and two teams looking for early season traction. West Hall then gets a week off before playing host to Chestatee (Sept. 7) in Game 2 of the 2012 season. The Spartans open the Region 7-AAA campaign against a Class AA playoff team from 2011 at Banks County on Sept. 21.
TRENDING: West Hall will look to gather energy and undergo a sort of rebirth under Lotti after posting three straight losing seasons (5-15 in that span). The Spartans last reached the state playoffs in 2002, but Lotti is confident his players have bought into his plan to rebuild the program.
Aug. 24 at Johnson
Sept. 7 vs. Chestatee
Sept. 14 vs. Lumpkin County
Sept. 21 at Banks County
Sept. 28 vs. Fannin County
Oct. 5 vs. at Buford
Oct. 19 at East Hall
Oct. 26 vs. North Hall
Nov. 2 at White County
Nov. 9 vs. Dawson County
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