Prep football: Poca could 'surprise some people'
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At the end of last football season, Poca walked out of O.O. White Stadium with a loss to Tolsia.
The defeated Dots had just 21 players on their roster.
Even a third grader knows 21 is less than 22 - the number needed to ensure a football team isn't forced to make players play both sides of the ball.
"We played pretty well most every game," Poca Coach Bob Lemley said. "We were in the games or tied at half time and then we'd wear down in the second half."
One of Lemley's 21 players was tailback T.T. Loudin, a 1,000-yard rusher who isn't dwelling on the successes or failures of 2012.
Loudin is focused on the future.
"I think we are going to surprise some people," The senior runner said. "People may see us as an underdog team, but I don't see us that way at all."
The veteran Lemley, like any seasoned competitor, has his team ready for its next challenge. He's entering his 25th season as coach of the Dots, and his career numbers are staggering.
There are six Class AA state titles displayed at O.O. White Stadium. Four belong to teams coached by Lemley - 1994, 2001, '02 and '03 - not to mention the numerous playoff appearances since 1990.
"If I had any sense I would have rode off into the sunset after 2003," Lemley joked.
But the legacy Lemley wants to leave isn't one tied to numbers.
"I want people to remember I worked hard," Lemley said. "That I was fair with the kids and I tried to make them as good of a person and athlete as they can be."
That message comes across loud and clear with his senior class this year.
"He'll put you in your place that's for sure," senior running back Kenny Stewart said.
"He is a great overall coach and role model," added Loudin.
There isn't any quit in Lemley, which is good because the last several years have seen some difficult times for the Dots. The last time Poca had a winning season was 2006. Since then, the program is a combined 20-41.
"There is a lot of life in football," Lemley said. "If kids can make it through the season and not quit - you can't quit all the time; you've got to get up and keep going. I think that is what high school football is all about."
The size of Lemley's roster nearly doubled to 40 this season. There are plenty of new faces around the locker room, including newcomer Justin Stewart, who will take over quarterback duties from Jake Payne, who decided not to play his senior season. Stewart's teammates respect his ability.
"We are coming from individual players to a family and the enthusiasm in practice just goes up and up," senior Layne Stover said.
"We are coming together as one," added Kenny Stewart.
That is providing optimism around a program that finished last season 2-8. Loudin said he thinks Poca can return to the postseason.
"I expect us to be a better football team this year," Lemley said. "We have a lot of speed."
Poca's first test is Aug. 30 against nearby rival Nitro. The Dots have won the last four meetings against the Wildcats and the animosity between the program burns hot, no matter the records.
"It's a huge rivalry." Stover said.
"We're just two miles apart; It's a big rivalry," Lemley said. "Their kids know our kids and our kids know theirs. So, yeah. It might get a little personal."