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Lambert takes deep look at roster during spring
Longhorns looking at more players contributing both ways
Rising senior Hayden McLeod is set to replace four-year starter Brock Maxwell at quarterback this season. - photo by File photo

Lambert at a glance

2012 record: 5-5, 2-5 Region 6-AAAAAA

Key losses: OL Ian Deck, OL Christian Gray, QB Brock Maxwell, LB Russell Monyette, RB Daniel Myers, WR T.J. Russell, OL Brian Warstadt

Key returners: DL Jake Chickowski , DL Conner McCann, DL Trey LeBlanc, DL Nick Topper, OLB Jordyn Jean-Felix, CB Brandon Miller, CB Tucker Maxwell, LB Adison Schimmelpfennig, OL Kevo Yeremian, TE Chris Laye, QB Hayden McLeod, RB Jake Stanford.

Key newcomers: WR Tanner Hall, Jeremy Johnson DB, DB/RB Skip Sleister, DB/LB Matt Woodley, OLB Zach Matthews, DB Will Dunavant, OL Cody Dreyer.

Coach Sid Maxwell said: "Our approach this spring was to make sure we have more people ready to play two ways. … I’m not going to get caught on that a second time."

The temptation for Lambert football might be to wonder what could have been last season after a surprising loss and mounting injuries turned a promising season into a playoff-less one.

But Longhorns coach Sid Maxwell learned something. Last season, he resisted putting players on both offense and defense. He wanted them to be specialists. The reward would be players more attuned to the technique and idiosyncrasies of their position. The risk would be a lack of depth that could expose the Longhorns if injuries began to mount. Last season, the injuries mounted.

Lambert spent spring practice addressing its depth. Yes, there are seven starters, including quarterback Brock Maxwell and running back Daniel Myers, to replace on offense. But more critical was the time players spent in drills of a new position where they might contribute depth.

"I’m not going to get caught on [injuries] a second time," Sid Maxwell said. "We’re going to teach both sides of the ball. It gives us a lot more depth."

Lambert’s depth had no greater test than in the Longhorns’ 35-28 overtime loss at Johns Creek last season. Lambert was 5-1 going into the game and looking like a playoff contender again. Instead, the Longhorns had to rally from a 17-0 deficit to eventually take the lead but at the cost of Brock Maxwell, both starting defensive ends and several defensive backs to injury.

The spiral began. Lambert lost its last four games to finish 5-5 and miss the playoffs for the first time since playing a region varsity schedule.

Even in free-fall, the Longhorns showed glimpses of the program that made back-to-back playoff appearances. Despite the overtime loss at Johns Creek, Maxwell was impressed with the team’s resiliency to come back and take a late lead. Even with a depleted team, the Longhorns managed to scare West Forsyth in a 17-16 overtime loss to the Wolverines in the season finale.

Injuries surely contributed to Lambert’s 0-5 finish, but a confluence of factors contributed.

The schedule got tougher – the Longhorns final five opponents went a combined 35-20 – a reminder to Lambert that it wasn’t playing in Class 4A anymore.

"I don’t think we realized the jump in athleticism," Sid Maxwell said. "I sort of knew being around a long time. Now, I think we’re training and a lot more prepared for that higher level of competition that we’re going to face now. They know what we’re up against."

Lambert’s also up against the loss of so many starters on offense, the most crucial replacement being quarterback Hayden McLeod. In three games starting last season when Brock Maxwell got injured, McLeod was 26-for-56 passing (41.1 percent) for 160 yards, one touchdown and one interception and rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.

"They’re totally different," Sid Maxwell said. "The biggest thing [Hayden] brings is the team approach. He’s going to get the ball and do the right things with it and be steady. The biggest thing he can do is make decisions on the field to get the team moving."