The restart of summer workouts has been fruitful for the Lindsay Knights.
Coming off a season in which they went 9-3 en route to the playoffs, many of the Knights’ offensive players are returning and that is leading to a smooth transition from the many months they have had off.
Lindsay offensive coordinator Zach Birdwell said because much of the team is coming back, workouts have started with a good foundation in place.
However, the quest for perfection doesn’t stop.
“Offensively, from a scheme standpoint, we’re at the point where we can go out and operate,” Birdwell said. “We ran 30 plays [Wednesday] and we had one drop, but obviously we want to go 30 for 30. We don’t want drops or a messed-up route. We don’t want to have any mess-ups. We want to win district and play into December.”
Despite having the returning experience, the push for players to solidify themselves in the lineup is constant.
“Every single kid we have is battling for a spot right now,” Birdwell said. “On paper, we lost one starter, but this year we have zero returners as far as I’m concerned. We’ve got two or three kids battling for every spot. That’s what we want. Plus, we want to have depth at this level so we can roll in and out and go quick, that’s a big part of what we want to do.”
Playing fast is integral to how the Knights go about their business and that has been the message in the few football practices they have had this summer.
“With [quarterback] Kolt Schuckers being new for us, we kind of did a year one offensive style last year,” Birdwell said. “This year, the kids know the offense. They know we’re not going to put anything new in. We’re going to do what we do and try to be the best route runners in the state and have the best receiving group. We didn’t spend any time teaching plays because they know it.”
One of those receivers is senior wideout Garrett Ellender, who was a constant for the Knights at the slot position.
Ellender is more than motivated this summer, especially after having his baseball season ended prematurely.
“After the baseball season being cut off, it feels good to finally be back working out and being here with all the brothers on the field,” Ellender said. “It was really hard because we were predicted to go deep this year and we were all ready to play one more year to play with people we’ve played with nearly our whole lives.”
Birdwell called Ellender and the other slot receivers technicians with the way they run routes and after Ellender was named to the Associated Press Sports Editors Class 2A all-state first team last season, expectations are high for him.
“We expect big things from them,” Birdwell said. “Garrett was able to do what he did last year because the year before he was a lineman. He knew at any point that if he wasn’t doing what we wanted that his butt would be back to the line. Now we’re going to see if he’s going to answer the call of being the all-state receiver that is going to be better. There’s no reason he shouldn’t have another big season for us.”
Ellender hauled in 51 catches for 896 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
He said he appreciates playing wide receiver much more than being on the offensive line.
As far as his personal goals for next year, Ellender said he has to work more on his receiving skills and route running.
“I was kind of hoping to be counted on because of how hard I worked last year after being a left tackle going to receiver,” Ellender said. “I like it better rather than being a lineman. I like that I’m kind of one of the people that the game is counted on. I like catching the balls, scoring the touchdowns and blocking for outside runs.”
Senior outside receiver Nash Dieter also said expectations are high this year, but currently, he’s just happy to be back around his friends and to be playing football again.
“It’s horrible getting out of bed, that’s for sure, because it’s so early, but after you get done it’s nice to go home and have your whole day ahead of you,” Dieter said. “Workouts are horrible and you feel the burn for sure, but Wednesdays are my favorite for sure because we get to play football. Being back up here is great for sure to be back in the swing of things.
“I think we’re looking to make a deep run to the playoffs and we’re looking forward to playing with these guys right here.”
Birdwell said Dieter will also play a big role for the receiving core this year.
“He started last year for us at the wideout position,” Birdwell said. “He started out really good and had a big catch against Muenster, but then he got hurt. He kind of became a role player for us. When it comes to attitude and being coachable, you can’t ask for a better kid than Nash. He’ll find his way onto the field on offense.”
After having their offseason program affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Birdwell said the Knights are driven to return to form.
“Every day is a chance for them to get better, faster and quicker and we were having such a great offseason and it got cut short,” Birdwell said. “They know they got set back a few months. The good thing is everybody is in the same position. The kids know they have two months to outwork everybody in the state and that’s their mindset every day. They’ve worked their tails off.”
For Birdwell, being away from football and the athletes was difficult and he said he is over the moon about getting back to working on their craft.
“Personally, it was stinking horrible,” Birdwell said. “I got in this to be around kids and be an influence on them. I want to be a bright spot on their day, so to not get to see them, it was tough. The kids made the most of it. The kids worked out and we kept preaching to them that when we come back that we were going to be ready.
“The first day back felt like the first day of football. It was one of those nights where you can’t sleep because you’re so excited. It’s been really good to be back.”
Patrick Hayslip can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip