“Hail! Hail! Hail!” screams the entire contingent of Lincoln High School football players on a foggy weekday afternoon.
The Lincoln football team opens up every practice by singing the school’s alma mater. Most sing along with every word, but many are still learning.
It’s a peculiar sight, but it is anything but insignificant. In fact, it represents the stage at which the Mustangs enter the 2011 season — building from the ground up.
After an 0-11 campaign in 2010, the school’s worst season in recent memory and maybe in history, that’s where they have to start.
Prior to the 2010 season it was incomprehensible to think that the same team that made five consecutive Turkey Bowl appearances could go without a win, let alone be outscored 415-119.
“I’m the head coach. I have to take full responsibility for it,” said Lincoln coach Phil Ferrigno. “I don’t think I coached as well and things didn’t jive. It would have been nice to get a little bit more buy-in from our kids, but at the same time, that’s my job and I failed the program last year.”
If anyone knows how to revive and sustain a program it’s Ferrigno, who led the Mustangs to four consecutive Academic Athletic Association championships from 2005-08 after a 26-year drought.
“All they saw was success, but they didn’t know where we came from, what it took to win,” Ferrigno said of his 2010 squad. “We’ve set a high standard to reach to, but you have to work at it.”
Numbers will be an issue again for the Mustangs, even though they will expand their varsity roster from 21 in 2010 to 28 this season.
The most intriguing player to watch will be junior quarterback Derek Morrell, who started as a sophomore last season, but often showed his age, completing just over 30 percent of his passes to go along with five touchdowns and nine interceptions.
But with a valuable year of varsity experience under his belt, Ferrigno sees striking signs of progress in Morrell.
“He’s had a great offseason. The sky is the limit for him,” Ferrigno said. “He’s grown as a person, but also physically. It’s an ongoing process, though, and he’s a young man who needs to show leadership.”
One of Morrell’s targets on offense will be captain Colin Luu, who will play tight end on offense and defensive end on defense.
The towering senior was listed at 6-foot-3 on last year’s roster, but looks a bit taller now and appears to have added some bulk onto his frame. The offensive and defensive lines for the Mustangs will be big, but they’re still unproven.
“We all know what we’re supposed to do, but we’re still learning,” Luu said. “There are still new guys coming on, but it’s coming together.”
With so many seniors exiting from last season’s AAA squads, there is a sense that the league title may be up for grabs, but leaving out Lincoln, a proven albeit sleeping contender, would be unwise.
Still, the 2010 season has allowed Ferrigno to gain a different perspective.
“I’ve had some great success here and I’m not going to lie and tell you it ain’t about winning,” Ferrigno said. “I like to win, but if we concentrate on the little things, the process and how these guys mold together, it doesn’t really matter. We never looked for wins when we were winning. It sounds so corny, but it’s so true.”
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