Lakeside wasted little time kicking off preseason camp.
As soon as rules allowed, about a minute after midnight on Aug. 1, the Panthers took the field for a second consecutive year of Midnight Madness.
"It had a lot of community support (last year), and the kids really enjoyed it," Lakeside coach Jody Grooms said. "We did it again this year and had even a bigger crowd. There was a lot of people there to watch practice. It created a festive atmosphere."
There is plenty of excitement surrounding Lakeside football as it approaches its Sept. 5 opener at Evans. The Panthers will play in a new-look Region 3-AAAA, which offers less travel and a parity level that has area players and coaches believing a region title is up for grabs.
The Panthers are among the contenders. They return 18 starters, including three-year starter Chad Chandler at quarterback and recent East Carolina University commitment Kyle Tudor anchoring the defense at linebacker.
Chandler accounted for almost 3,000 yards last season, which Grooms said was more yards than the Panthers had accumulated in the three prior seasons combined.
The returning talent and another year in Grooms' system have the Panthers believing a region championship is possible.
"I feel like we have the talent level to be that," Chandler said. "But we have to get our minds right to be in that position."
Especially the first two games.
Grooms will sit out the Panthers' opener at Evans and the next week, when they play host to rival Greenbrier. The suspension was passed down after Grooms called an illegal play last season.
The coach has since apologized and expressed a desire to put the incident and its aftermath behind him. And he has the support of his team.
"Everybody on the field knows he wants to be out there," Chandler said.
The Panthers have a new defensive coordinator, John Creager, whose new scheme includes moving Tudor from defensive back to linebacker. The senior, who plans to enroll at ECU in January, has led the team in tackles the past two seasons.
And what's he going to do this year from his new position?
"Rip people's heads off,' Chandler said.
Lakeside's players are not short on confidence. Grooms, while acknowledging his team's potential for a solid season, has tried to temper some of the talk about changing regions.
"We've been in this region before, and Lakeside didn't do too good," Grooms said. "Just because you change regions don't guarantee success, is what I tell them. Until we get our program where everybody around here would like to see our program get, it's going to be a tough road to travel."
That road begins with the opener against the Knights. Until someone knocks the Knights off, Grooms said, Evans is the "big boy on the corner."
Lakeside believes it has the tools to be the bully soon.
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