Lambert football has had high expectations since its inaugural season in 2009. Year after year, the team would set out to win a region championship and end up falling short. Year after year, they would play in state playoff games but could never eclipse defeat.
In 2016, the Longhorns finally broke out. They beat their two biggest rivals, West and South Forsyth, on their way to a region title, and they beat up Central Gwinnett, 44-14, in their first state playoff win.
But the only thing harder than winning your first is defending the throne.
“When I came in, those were two goals,” head coach Louis Daniel said. “Meeting that goal is a big deal, but I think it’s probably going to be a lot harder defending that region championship.”
Across Lambert’s schedule sits teams poised as ever to give the reigning champs a run for their money. North Forsyth’s high-flying offense has their quarterback returning. South Forsyth has experienced talent on both sides of the ball. West Forsyth has one of the biggest weapons the county has ever seen.
To construct a region championship contender, Lambert elected to breed competition within the team. With uncertainty in who is starting for positions across the field, the coaching staff has allowed players to fight hard during practice for snaps later on in the season.
“We don’t have a lot of situations coming into the new season where you say, ‘This guy is buckled in, he’s going to be the starter,’” Daniel said. “The rest of the guys are going to have to compete.”
The spring grit sets up for Lambert to be led, once again, by a top-level defense. Last season, Lambert’s defense was led by a plethora of seniors who combined to allow an average of just 17.4 points per game in region games. The holes need to be filled, but Lambert’s defense is highlighted by a standout talent.
Kenneth Dicks III’s recruiting went from quiet to one of the loudest in the region. Dicks III attended Nike’s The Opening Finals, one of the biggest football showcase events in the nation, and took home the top score for the entire Southeast. Big schools all over the country took notice, and Dicks III accrued dozens of Division-I offers before committing to Wake Forest.
Dicks might be a highlight, but it is going to take talent across the board for Lambert to realize their hopes of repeating as region champions.
Richie Kenney, a three-year starter at quarterback, looks to be replaced by Bobby Gabriel. Gabriel received snaps at quarterback the last couple seasons but mostly in a red-zone or short yardage role. This season, Gabriel has to replace a big-armed, spread style quarterback with his dual-threat style. Gabriel is much more of a runner than Kenney, which fits in well with their backfield.
“Bobby is a great passer,” said senior running back and cornerback Marcus Chatelain. “The most important thing about him is that he’s athletic so it opens up a lot more we can do on offense.”
Back at running back is Justin Bruno. Bruno busted onto the scene last season with highlight reel runs of 60 or more yards. He has seen some recruiting buzz himself, and with Gabriel alongside him, the running game should be a huge threat for Lambert.
The offensive line featured five new starters last season, making it a huge question mark for Lambert. This year they have three returning linemen in seniors Joshua Hawkins, Mark Rupert and Sean Warren.
Last season, the defense was led by seniors all over the field, notably linebackers Mac Redmond and Dylan Shepard. The two were first and second in tackles on the team, combining for well over 200.
“There’s four or five guys competing to play linebacker that I feel confident that they are going to be adequate enough or even better than the guys that played before,” Daniel said.
The secondary is where the experienced faces play. At the cornerback positions stand Chatelain and Dicks III, both who have started for multiple seasons. With two of the most talented players on the roster honing down the county’s top receivers, it puts Lambert’s defense in a position to be dominant once again with the spread style offenses that are littered throughout the region.
First varsity season: 2010
Playoff appearances: 6 (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Region titles: 1 (2016)
State titles: none
At Lambert: 22-12, fourth season.
Overall: 22-12, fourth season.
All games 7:30 p.m. unless noted
Aug. 25 vs. Mountain View
Sept. 1 at Collins Hill
Sept. 8 at Cherokee
Sept. 15 vs. Lanier
Sept. 22 at Wheeler
Oct. 6 at South*
Oct. 13 vs. North*
Oct. 20 vs. West*
Oct. 27 vs. Milton*
Nov. 3 at Central*
* Region 5-7A game