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Lions to be ‘empathetic’ in 2018

Football is a game known for toughness. It’s about forcing your will onto the opponent and never giving up.

So, what does first-year Lockport Head Football coach Trait Smith choose to be the Lions’ team motto in 2018?

Empathy.

It doesn’t ring like “One Team, One Goal” or “Some wish for it, we work for it”. It’s not as stern as “No excuses” or “Always earned, Never given”. But it’s the motto, taken from Mike Master’s Cross Training, that Smith hopes will help turn around the program that has won only one game the past two seasons.

“We’re trying to let people know that we’ve been down and out for two years. But you know what?” Smith said, “we still have empathy towards other people. I want my team to understand that they’re lucky. There are some people who would love just to have one play.”

The hope is that if the players can realize how lucky they are to be able to play the game, that they will make the most of the opportunity they have.

“We can do stuff on the field that other people can’t do, so we should do better for them,” senior WR Nico Haney said.

It’s part of improving the outlook of the program from within, a program that Smith holds very near.

Smith, who takes over for Matt Vermette, has been with the Lockport football program for 20 years. An alumnus of the school, he played on Lockport’s only undefeated football team in 1982. Being the head coach of the program has always been a dream.

“It’s something I’ve always looked forward to,” Smith said. “The kids are great. I’ve worked with a bunch of them for the past two years at the JV. I have tough shoes to fill but I’m trying.”

It may be a tall task for the 2018 team to match the success of the 1982 squad, but creating that same bond is something that the current team can achieve.

In 2017, Lockport went a disappointing 0-8 (0-6 Class AA). Both Haney and junior Josh Cooper pointed to a lack of team unity as being a key issue.

“We have to play harder, more aggressive and together,” Cooper said. “We can’t play by ourselves, we have to play as a team. We have a good team, we just have to come together.”

If they can come together, Lockport may be able to win some games.

The Lions lose QB Javon Ford and RB Xavier Barber to graduation but are excited about what they are bringing back.

At the top of that list is Haney, Cooper and seniors Malik Brooks and Jalyn Jones.

Junior Nick Cascia will take over under center this year. Cascia got some time in last year when Ford got hurt.

The Lions are expecting big things from junior Santino Drake, up from the JV.

Lockport is also looking forward to playing on their brand new artificial turf this season. They won’t be able to get on it right away but the plan is that the field will be ready for homecoming on Oct. 6.

That means the Lions will have to play their first five games on the road, but it’s a price they’re willing to pay.

“It’s better than the field we’ve had,” Haney said. “The turf should give us better conditions to play on.”

The changes are bittersweet for Smith who has a lot of great memories from the old field.

“It’s bringing a lot of excitement,” Smith says. “The kids can’t wait to get on it. It’s a little sad though because you lose a turf that I played on but nowadays you need better fields.”

As they welcome a new coach and a new turf field, the expectation in Lockport is pretty simple.

“We have to win some games,” Cooper said.

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