LINGLE – The Lingle-Fort Laramie senior class has only played six-man football since they were in middle school, not having played traditional football since they were in fifth grade.
This year, the squad is having to learn all new offenses, defensives, terminology and rules as the Doggers are nearly a week into two-a-days. Despite the many changes, the L-FL players are buying into the new system.
“The kids are so excited to play football, and they trust us as coaches,” head coach Matt Cornelius said. “The learning curve has been so steep, and I’ve never had a group of kids, as a whole, focused on me as a coach or the assistants, then I have right now. They want to win, and they are putting the work into that.”
One of the biggest hurdles in the opening week is teaching the fundamentals of the offensive and defensive lines, which were nonexistent in the six-man game.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on how that works. One of the things we have to talk about is ineligible man downfield considering everyone is eligible in six-man,” Cornelius said. “It broke some of my big boys’ hearts that they won’t probably ever catch a pass for the rest of the year.”
But it’s not just the players who are excited about being back on the field.
The coaches and the community are excited to have the more conventional style of football back in Lingle.
“As coaches, we couldn’t be more excited to get back to a more traditional type of football,” Cornelius said. “We had to move to six-man just to have our program survive.”
Two years ago, the Doggers only had 10 players out, and the move to six-man was needed to keep any resemblance of a football team alive.
“We are really, really excited about the upcoming season. The community, I wouldn’t say, turned a blind eye to our program when we went to six-man, but the buzz wasn’t around the community like it was before, when we were playing the Southeast’s, the Lusk’s and the Moorcroft’s.”
But the buzz is returning this year, as the program has more than 20 players out and will be renewing a lot of the SEWAC rivalries this fall.
Cornelius also had more student-athletes in the weight room this summer than he had in the previous 12 years he’s been in Lingle.
“That’s a little bit of the virus and the kids stuck in their houses wanting a reason to get out, but it’s just the kids,” he said. “We have great kids. We have kids with great character, heart and work ethic. They are just excited to get out and play.”
As the first week of practice wraps up and the second week begins, Cornelius said a lot of what the team is going through right now is mental.
“It’s more of a mental game right now, trying to understand how things work,” he said. “There is a whole new set of terminology with nine-man than there was at six-man. There are different blitz packages we are doing. There is a whole new offensive set we are doing. The kids are buying in because they want to win.”
The Doggers will get their first taste of nine-man football in a scrimmage on the road against Pine Bluffs on Friday, Sept. 28 before opening the regular season at home against Wind River on Sept. 4.
“There was a rumor out there that Wind River canceled its season, along with Wyoming Indian and St. Stephens,” Cornelius said. “Wind River is off the reservation and is not controlled by the Elder Council and are currently, as far as we know, still playing.”
Fall Sports Preview
The Torrington Telegram’s Fall Sports Preview, featuring stories and photos featuring teams from Torrington, Southeast and Lingle -Fort Laramie will be published on Friday, Aug. 28.