Year one under coach Rashad West was a success.
Although the Lakewood Ranch High football program made huge strides under new head coach Rashad West, this season has ended with no postseason.
A postseason berth would have been quite the story as the Mustangs haven’t reached the playoffs since 2011, and the program’s struggles have been chronicled here multiple times.
What is new is the feeling of accomplishment with a winning record.
Lakewood Ranch finished 6-3 after beating host Seminole High 21-13 to close out the regular season. The Mustangs had six wins for the first time since 2014.
Going to the games felt different. In past years, the crowd's chants would focus on the other team. There was not much good to say about their own team’s performance. This year, those cheers were aimed at lifting their own team up, and why not? They had a chance to win more often than not.
West said his first season exceeded his expectations. Going in, he said, he was not sure if people would care about the program, even if he turned it around. Was the Mustangs community too jaded from past failures? Would he have to earn its trust? The answer to both turned out to be no. From the first day, his ideas for the “New Ranch,” as he calls it, were embraced, by players, parents and fans.
That allowed West to focus on what he does best: Making the team better.
“This season meant a lot to us,” West said. “This was the first step. This was a building block year. It was about setting internal expectations, and lucky for us, that led to some success. We wanted the kids to have accountability and discipline, and that goes beyond football. Show up to class on time. Go to study hall. We had weightlifting at 7 a.m. That is 30 minutes before school starts, and everyone had to be there. The kids responded and did a great job.”
West said he isn’t setting numerical expectations going forward. He just wants his guys to get better. Make no mistake, they are his guys. When asked if there were any players or units he was most excited about, West said he could not pick just one or two. The whole program has potential, he said. The talent that exists needs to continue to be developed through the weight room and refining technique.
The season could have been a lot more dour without the contributions of his seniors, a fact that is not lost on West, who said he is proud of them for sticking with the sport and giving him a chance. Those seniors set the tone for the future. The underclassmen know nothing but a winning season. Four-year seniors like wide receiver Michael Cucci and safety Dylan Bennett and transfers like running back Isaiah Harrison deserve credit for laying a foundation of success.
The Mustangs will return both of their quarterbacks (junior Jimmy Kelly and sophomore Cameron Madison) and 6-foot-6 defensive end Dasani Robinson, who has the type of natural athleticism that can't be taught. The more athletes West and defensive coordinator Cody Montgomery get their hands on, the more good things will happen.
If this was first chapter, I can't wait for the next one.
“The arrow is trending up here,” West said. “We are in a position to do positive things.”