The side of the Leander football building is covered in plaques from when the Lions were perennial powers. Head coach Tim Smith wants to add on to it.
Having missed the postseason for the last three seasons, the Lions also missed the playoffs after losing to Lehman by just two points in the final game of the season.
“There are a lot of good players who played here,” Smith said. “It’s good for our kids to see how big they are and embrace them and play for them. It shows them how much work it takes to win.”
The highlight of the season for the Lions came in their district-opening 44-28 win over Vista Ridge. Sophomore quarterback Rashad Carter put on a show, going 14 of 17 for 188 yards and a touchdown through the air and rushing for 160 yards and a score.
The Lions competed in nearly every game this season, averaging 17.8 points per game while giving up 35.2 each time out. They lost to Westlake and Lake Travis, the top two teams in the district, by a combined score of 104-0.
“Playing Lake Travis and Westlake, it opens up your eyes,” Smith said. “We were the smallest school in the district and we were two points from making the playoffs. If they can make a difference and stay grounded in our goals, they’ll become good football players. The winning will take itself.”
Quarterback Kyle Irlbeck based the offense with 636 yards and six touchdowns despite missing most of the district season. Sophomore Rashad Carter had 517 yards and one touchdown but rushed for 320 yards and three scores in five games.
Jai Garcia led the running backs with 470 yards and four touchdowns while Dalton Flowers caught three touchdowns with 883 yards to lead the receivers.
Alex Williams led the Lions’ defense with 167 tackles and Malcolm Wright-Harris was second with 84, a team-best three sacks and one interception. Both linebackers were named second-team All-District.
Four other Lions were named to the All-District team. Senior defensive lineman Zeke Garcia was the only first teamer. Offensive lineman John Armstrong, Flowers, defensive end Luke Owens were named to the second team.
“People get excited about new schools and that’s good because it shows the district is growing,” Smith said. “We’re treated as a small school and I can call any coach in the district. Talking to coach (George) Herrmann at Pflugerville and how many years they have been playing, that’s where the history gets really cool.”
According to lonestarfootball.com, the Lions and Panthers have met 58 times dating back to 1937. Pflugerville leads the all-time series 32-24-2 and has won two of the last three games against Leander.
Even the brick and mortar school building has grown a lot in the recent years. The brick atrium that was at one time the front entrance to the school is in the middle of the building.
Smith is leaning on the Leander history to take the program to the next level and is focusing on faith, family, academics and football. His office was filled with toys gathered by the team during the last week of the semester for Toys for Tots.
“What I’ve seen the last couple years is that our kids don’t play like we’re a small school,” Smith said. “We’re going to grow. It’s coming and everything is expanding, but the tradition won’t change. The kids here will fight their butts off. That’s the tradition here.”