There are plenty of ways for a high school football program to measure success – wins on the gridiron, accolades by sportswriters, sales of season tickets. Last year’s undefeated Wildcats checked all those boxes. Speaking Wednesday night to Exchange Club members, head coach Lonnie Jordan added “coming together, playing hard and creating memories” to his goals for the team.
“Ultimately we want to win a state championship,” Jordan said. “We did that in 1981, and we’ve had some incredible teams in the history of this school. We talk to our kids a lot about that – the tradition and the legacy of that. So that’s where we want to go. But I think there are many different ways to measure success, and part of it is – do our kids love each other, do they care about their coaches, do they care about their teammates and do they play hard with one another? If they do, whether they are 4-6 or 10-1, I think that’s a pretty special year.”
Another of Jordan’s objectives is buy in from the community. When asked about athletes in big name programs forgoing their senior year to play at college and cash in on their likeness, Jordan was skeptical.
“To me it just doesn’t feel right. I got in this business to create an experience for kids and an experience for the community, and our goal is to make Lake Highlands feel like a small town. We want everyone rooting for our kids and rooting for our community.”
If Jordan’s aim was to enlarge the team’s fanbase and his pool of future players, he’s been scoring big. When he was hired as head coach in 2015, the elementary football camp had just been cancelled. He scrambled to recruit campers and ended up with 35 kids. This year they had 228.
“They just kept coming,” joked Jordan, admitting that a few of the wee Wildcats didn’t know a high knee from a forward roll before camp began. “This week we had our junior high camp with almost 150 kids, which is double anything we’ve ever had.”
Jordan and his coaching crew, led by offensive coordinator and assistant head coach Corey Campbell and defensive coordinator Anthony Pascuzzi, encouraged the kids to compete with their whole heart against each other at Forest Meadow and Lake Highlands Junior High but remember – they’ll all play together on the same LHHS team one day.
“It was a fun week getting to know them and seeing them work together,” said Jordan. “We talked about how they’d go back and be opponents, but we saw friendships forming and guys working together, which will make it easier when they come back here as ninth graders in a couple of years. There are great things on the horizon.”
For now, his players are sporting new jerseys with the Air Jordan logo. After last year’s success, Nike approached Lake Highlands and invited the team to wear their “jumpman” jerseys.
“You have to be selected as a group to do that,” Jordan said, “and the job these guys did earned them the right to wear it. When you do good things and you work hard, good things happen to you.”
The team is also holding fast to this season’s theme: Chase the Lion.
“Chase the Lion is about facing your fears and not backing down from challenges,” explained Jordan. “It’s about chasing after your dreams despite the scary things around us and our failures along the way.”