It’s the final go-around for seniors
Published 12:00 am Friday, November 4, 2016
LAGRANGE – He doesn’t want it to be his last lap around the field.
Each year at the close of the final practice before the first playoff game, the seniors on the Lafayette Christian School football team take a ceremonial jog around the football field, and they shake hands with the underclassmen when they finish.
If the Cougars reach the second round of the playoffs, the seniors will take two laps, and that’ll grow to three if they make it to the championship game.
One of those seniors, Josh Shepherd, hopes to be back on the field in two weeks, taking three circuits around the field and getting ready for a title game.
A year ago, Lafayette Christian won the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association eight-man state championship.
Not that the Cougars need any added motivation to make it back to the title game, but if they do reach that point, they’ll play for the championship on their home field on Nov. 18.
Lafayette Christian opens its playoff stay with a road game against Harvester Christian tonight.
“Last year, all the seniors got to do all three laps. I want all three of my laps, too,” Shepherd said. “If you can make it to the championship on your home field, that’s a dream for me.”
Shepherd is one of six seniors looking to keep the season going for at least another week.
The other seniors are Jonathan Parham, Jess Hill, Nick Spitler, Job Tendo and Gary Johnson.
Lafayette Christian enter the playoffs with a losing record, but it got a big home win over Twiggs Academy last week that secured a spot in the state playoffs.
A year ago, the Cougars got hot at the right time and won the whole thing.
The Cougars are as healthy as they’ve been all season and everybody will be ready to go tonight, so perhaps history is about to repeat itself.
“This team this year, I’ve got a lot of confidence,” Shepherd said. “We can do the same thing we did last year, the same thing that team did. We lost three in a row and won the rest of them.”
It helps having Shepherd back in the lineup.
Shepherd missed three straight games with a knee injury, and he returned last week and saw limited playing time, strictly on defense.
Tonight, Shepherd said he’s 100 percent, and he’ll play on offense and defense.
“I didn’t play any offense last week,” Shepherd said. “But I’ll be back this week playing everything.”
Shepherd said he was injured when he was hit on the knee after making a catch.
“I caught the ball and turned to run, and he stuck his helmet in my leg,” Shepherd said. “I knew when I couldn’t get up that it was bad. I’m glad it wasn’t my ACL.”
It was a tough break that cost Shepherd three games of his senior season, but he’s glad to be back now.
“To be in the playoffs all my four years, it’s great,” Shepherd said. “I’m ready to get out there and just show out. I’m glad to be back.”
While Shepherd is a long-time member of the football team, running back Nick Spitler is a newcomer.
Spitler was on the football team when he was in the eighth grade, but he didn’t play after that, choosing instead to focus on soccer.
Last spring, Spitler was a part of the soccer team that won a state championship, and when that happened, he was in line to pay off on a promise he made to Nate Shaw, the head coach of the football team.
“Last year we won the state championship, and I promised coach Shaw that if we won, that I’d come out for him,” Spitler said. “So that’s what happened.”
Spitler has thrived as a running back this season, and he has produced a number of big plays for a team that had to replace some terrific offensive play-makers from last year’s team.
Spitler said he’s driven in part by a desire to keep opposing defenders from getting their pads on him.
“When I go into a game, I have to be the fastest guy out there if I don’t want to get hit,” Spitler said. “So that’s what I try to do.”
One of the team’s veterans is Jess Hill, a driving force behind last year’s championship team.
With everyone healthy, Hill is optimistic about the team’s chances.
“Everyone’s back,” Hill said. “Josh is back. No one’s ineligible. And you know last year we had losses to, and we came out and won. We can do it again.”
Hill said everyone just needs to walk out on the field at Harvester’s field tonight and enjoy the moment.
“That’s the only thing we’re going to do is have fun,” Hill said. “And we play better when we have fun.”
Gary Johnson, a member of the soccer and football teams that won state titles last school year, always enjoys the tradition of having the seniors circle the field.
In previous years, of course, he was one of the guys cheering the seniors on.
Now, Johnson is running the field while the other players and coaches spur him on.
“It gives you the feels a little bit,” Johnson said. “You know it might be your last time, that you might not be able to do it again. That’s the whole thing I thought while I was running. I don’t want it to be my last.”
Johnson has been a part of teams that reached the final four in back-to-back years before breaking through for the title last year.
“We’re very used to going to the semifinal,” Johnson said. “I want to continue that tradition.”
Job Tendo said he’s “real excited” about the playoffs, and during Thursday’s run around the field, he reflected on the good times he’s had as a member of the Lafayette Christian football family.
“It makes you think of all the times you’ve had,” Tendo said.
Added senior Jonathan Parham: “Taking that lap, you think about everything you’ve done. I don’t want it to end.”
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports