ST. PETERSBURG — Here they go again.
A year ago almost to the day, Lakewood had high hopes for a district championship. The Spartans were 6-0 with games remaining against Jesuit, Robinson, Spoto and St. Petersburg.
The result was four straight losses and plenty of finger pointing.
Now, the Spartans are 6-0 with games remaining against the same schools. Lakewood players and coaches swear things are different.
The ‘‘me first’’ attitude has been replaced by a team concept. The finesse-style offense has been replaced by a smash-mouth running game. The Spartans are even doing yoga, for crying out loud.
“Record wise, we’re in the same position,’’ coach Cory Moore said. “Team wise, we’re totally different.’’
The Spartans will find out if the changes are working after tonight’s Class 5A-8 game at Jesuit. The biggest difference has been a change in strategy.
After embarrassing losses in the spring game against Lakeland and the preseason game against Countryside, Moore decided his team needed a different look. He scrapped the wide-open, pass-oriented offense and concentrated on the running game.
On defense, he challenged his players to be more aggressive. The result so far has been 265 points for, nine against.
“Coming into the regular season I made up my mind that I wanted us to go from being a finesse team to being a bully on the field,’’ Moore said. “The team that can run the ball and is hard-nosed, those teams go far. I had to change things that I prefer. Instead of throwing the ball, I’m looking to run. I had to adjust.
“If you’re a slugger, don’t try to be a boxer. Be a slugger. Sluggers go to state championships.’’
Then there is the change of attitude. Last year’s team was chock full of athletes, but when things fell apart, Moore said players became selfish.
The Spartans swear statistics don’t mean anything this season.
“Last year we played for stats,’’ senior quarterback Tracy Johnson said. “We didn’t play as a team. We thought we were good, but we weren’t good. We tried to do too much as one person instead of as a unit. This year, we’re a unit.’’
Senior receiver Rodney Adams echoes much of the same.
“We’re playing much more as a team, as a family this year,’’ he said. “We’re not worried about stats or who can do better than who. We’re really clicking right now. Our running game is doing very well. Laterian Latimer is running very well. So is Malcolm Ervin and Stephen Bridges. The receivers are catching the ball.’’
Then there’s yoga. The team meets with instructor Terry Plummage once a week to loosen up and envision Friday night’s game.
At first, the Spartans thought their coach had lost his mind. But they say they have embraced yoga as part of the weekly routine.
“At first I was like, ‘Are we really going to do this?,’ ’’ Johnson said. “I was looking around the room to see if anybody else was doing it. But now everybody does it. It really works.’’
Clearly, several things are going to have to work for Lakewood to beat Jesuit. The Tigers have won four straight and given up only six points in those games. Their two losses were to Plant and district foe Robinson.
Moore said last year’s loss to Jesuit is a distant memory. He’s had a year to think about how he can get his team ready to get past this part of the season.
“Last year, it wasn’t Jesuit’s fault,’’ Moore said. “It was our fault. It’s how we prepared. This year we feel we’re much more prepared.’’
Rodney Page can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @RodneyHomeTeam.