By Kyle LoJacono
Two years ago the Freedom football team set a program record by winning seven games and reached the playoffs for just the second time in school history.
The team took a step back with a 4-6 record in 2010, but second-year coach Tchecoy Blount thinks the near future is bright for the Patriots.
“It’s going to take fundamentals and discipline to make the postseason,” Blount said. “That team that went 7-3 had an excellent coaching staff and team. We lost 18 starters from that team going into 2010. So this past season, we had to find 18 new starters, and true starters. This year we’re replacing six, so more of the kids have been involved with the program and know the basics.”
Freedom may only need to replace six starters, but they are big holes to fill.
Robert Lohnes had a team-high 37 catches for 596 yards and seven total touchdowns, while adding another 531 return yards on special teams and 43 tackles and two interceptions on defense. Dustin Rauh also departs after posting 332 receiving yards and was tied for the team lead with seven sacks.
Two other big losses on defense include Josh Tanner and his 60 tackles and seven sacks and Keith Lewis’ 104 tackles.
“We’re going to find out if we have the guys to replace them,” Blount said. “It’s hard to replace an athlete as skilled as Robert Lohnes who played basically every play on offense, defense and special teams. Same thing with Keith Lewis, Josh Tanner and Dustin Rauh, but that’s why this is a team sport. The guys who were behind them need to step up and attack their opportunities.”
One of the guys filling that void on the defense is junior linebacker Isaac Tanner, who led the Patriots with 133 tackles in 2010.
“I feel like Keith Lewis’ prodigy,” Tanner said. “I have to take over for him and help take this defense to the next level. … I want to really improve on my fundamentals and look at a lot of film. I feel I have the ability to make plays, but I need to know and anticipate what’s going to happen before it happens.”
Freedom did lose its leading passer Dominic Marino to graduation, but he did not start the final four games last year. That is when Jon Economou took over under center and posted 296 yards on 38 completions and two scores.
“I’m looking to get the offense and the whole team going,” said Economou, who attended Wiregrass Ranch as a freshman and sophomore. “I want to try and settle in with the players and get ready to do a lot more for this team in the fall. My goal is to throw for 2,000 yards so the other team can’t focus on stopping the run game. We need to be balanced and I’m really excited for the chance.
“Robert Lohnes was a big target for us last year, but we have some really good players like Trevor Steinke, Isaac Tanner, Deven Turner, Larry Thorpe,” Economou continued. “We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things on offense, and all I have to do is get them the ball and let them do what they can. I know my guys, and I trust them to be great.”
Blount has not named Economou as the starter, but said, “As of right now Jon has had a good offseason. He’s been working one on one with a quarterback coach and he’s gotten a lot better with his footwork and his arm. We’re expecting him to do great things.”
One of the big offensive weapons for Freedom is Steinke. The running back had a team-high 86 carries for 286 yards and one touchdown last year.
“I just want to get back to where I was at the end of the season and then get stronger,” Steinke said. “I had the most rushing yards on the team, but only one touchdown. I want to stay at the top for yards and find the end zone a little more. I’ve been getting my lower body stronger to get those yards at the goal line.”
The Patriots will play their spring jamboree game at Tampa Bay Tech on Friday, May 20 at 6:30 p.m. It represents the first real test of how close the program is to making it back to the postseason.
“It’s going to take hard work and dedication,” Tanner said. “We have the athletes and the right coaches to get back to the playoffs, so it’s about dedication to become one solid unit.”
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