By McClain Baxley
For the Forsyth County News
One of the things Tommy Watson noticed at Lambert was the amount of versatility and raw athleticism walking the halls.
The Longhorns have won plenty of region, state and national championships across different sports, but only have one region championship on the gridiron. Watson planned to meet with players and coaches from other sports to try out for the football team to help compete for a region championship in his first year at the helm.
With stops at Lowndes and Valdosta, he’s been around some of the best programs in the state. He knows talent when he sees it and knows the advantage having multi-sport athletes on the roster can provide.
“We want our players playing basketball, playing baseball and running track,” Watson said. “Our coaches and players are going to support other programs and players.”
Senior cornerback Nick Pasonski ran an 11.81 second 100-meter dash in February. Senior running back Robert Riddle won the region JV track and field championships in 2019 as a sophomore. Senior cornerback Jack Wise plays midfield for the lacrosse team.
Though sport specialization is prevalent in high schoolers and youth across the country, Watson is working to get kids that want to and can play more than one sport.
“I want a kid that’s playing wideout or in the secondary that has been in the batter’s box with a 3-2 count in the bottom of the seventh down one run,” he said. “I want a kid to step up to the free-throw line in December losing by one with 5 seconds on the clock.”
Watson convinced rising sophomore basketball player Niko Wilson to come play receiver for him, joining a group that Watson thinks can be one of the best in north Georgia.
There’s four-star receiver Kojo Antwi, who had six touchdowns and 679 yards in 2019 to help earn offers from the top programs in the country. Fellow seniors Braden Bamburowski and Jackson Stewart provide experience and speed to the position.
Watson and the coaching staff will have to replace FCN All-County honorable mention quarterback Peyton Rich, but there are options.
“That position is going to be a really intriguing battle,” Watson said. “We’re excited. Everyone is dead even right now, and that’s what we told our kids to buy in to. No one has a starting position.”
Seniors Aryan Talla, Logan Wire and junior Ashton Smith are three players Watson believes can push Lambert in the right direction. Smith started at junior varsity in 2019, Wire has the tools to play varsity quarterback and Talla knows the playbook the best.
On the offensive line, Watson noticed their size.
Six-foot-5, 265-pound junior offensive tackle Grayson Mains picked up offer from the University of Kansas over the summer.
“I’m really excited about the offensive line,” Watson said. “I can think of six or seven of these guys that are just really big.”
Like at wide receiver, the Longhorns have an experienced lineup in the backfield. Senior Robert Riddle is expected to return from an injury that held him out of most of the 2019 season and junior Nick Taylor.
Discussing his defense puts a smile on Watson’s face, especially the linebacker core. At middle linebacker, Harrison Peyton notched 68 total tackles in 2019 and Thomas Tattersall had 57.
“I think where we’re going to make the biggest jump from at Lambert over the past five years is the way we play defense,” Watson said. “We have a kid named Harrison Peyton who I think it’s just a matter of time before he blows up on the recruiting trail.”
Sept. 4 vs. Campbell
Sept. 11 vs. Lassiter
Sept. 18 vs. Meadowcreek
Sept. 25 at Duluth
*Oct. 2 at South Forsyth
Oct. 9 BYE
*Oct. 16 at Gainesville
*Oct. 23 vs. Denmark
*Oct. 30 at North Forsyth
*Nov. 6 vs. Forsyth Central
*Nov. 13 vs. West Forsyth
Nov. 20 BYE
*Denotes Region 6-7A contest
0-10 overall, 0-5 Region 5-7A
L — Wheeler 42, Lambert 19
L — Chattahoochee 46, Lambert 28
L — Gainesville 55, Lambert 7
L — Peachtree Ridge 7, Lambert 0
L — Lanier 43, Lambert 6
L — South 42, Lambert 17
L — North 49, Lambert 21
L — West 33, Lambert 7
L — Milton 49, Lambert 0
L — Central 29, Lambert 22
First varsity season: 2010
Playoff appearances: 6 (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Region titles: 1 (2016)
State titles: 0
At Lambert: 0-0, first season
Overall: 23-38, seventh season
There’s good experience in the defensive backfield, too. Senior safety Rex Aledia and Pasonski had a combined 78 tackles, seven pass deflections and two interceptions a year ago.
Watson transitioned junior Darren Guy to defensive end. At linebacker in 2019, Guy had a team-high two sacks to go with his 35 total tackles and fumble recovery.
Sophomore Max Chapa Ponce is expected to be the starting kicker again in 2020. Chapa Ponce, who also plays for the Lambert soccer team, made 90% of his PAT attempts and averaged 30.8 yards on kickoffs.
Competing with Chapa Ponce is fellow sophomore Alex Mitchell who made 90% of his PAT attempts. Mitchell also converted a 29-yard field goal.
Coming back from a winless season, Watson thought it might be a challenge to change the culture. Instead, the players have been willing to work.
“Any time you get a new head coach, he wants to come in with his philosophy and get his culture down,” he said. “It wasn’t a hard sell. These kids are hungry, they want to win and they deserve to win.”