File Photo: Lanier's Donte Borders (5) runs the ball towards the endzone during a game last season.
When Lanier finished practice earlier this week, the team lined up for its senior handshake, a moment designed for the underclassmen to acknowledge the efforts of the departing class.
At any school, this is a moment to savor, but for the Longhorns it means something slightly more.
The 16 seniors were those who chose Lanier. As a second-year school, these players could have stayed and finished high school at their established schools. They could have watched or played for teams in battles for region and state titles, been a part of Class AAAAA football. But, instead, they chose to lead the start of something new.
"I am certainly proud of those guys and of what they have done," said Lanier head coach Billy Wells.
This is just one of the many events for the Longhorns' final week of football as they prepare to play St. Francis in their fifth varsity game of the year. There were signs in the lockers at the start of the week, parents are painting their sons' numbers on the field before tonight's game and there will be a senior dinner to allow them to be together one final time as self-selected leaders of the team.
Entering tonight, Lanier is 3-1 in its varsity games, the only loss coming against future county rival Mountain View. This is the final year they will play a non-varsity schedule. The final year of preparation.
"We certainly want to raise our level of expectations in Year 3," Wells said. "That's not necessarily in wins and losses, but that's demanding more and wanting the kids to do more. Our kids are excited about playing football and seeing who we will play next year."
The only thing Lanier knows now is it will have a varsity schedule and the outgoing class help set the program on its current path.
"We've been really fortunate this year," Wells said. "It's been huge for our kids to transition into that next year of play."
Wells said Year 2 is the year that is about people and players and he had plenty to watch grow, from all ages.
Seniors like Zachary Winzurk and Chauncey West became leaders. Wells watched junior Isidore Sam grow into a football player and find success. Ricky Viengxay started playing this year and turned into an effective defensive end. Young Running backs Donte Borders and Bernard Nuckles give the Longhorns depth for the seasons ahead.
"It's been very rewarding in Year 2," Wells said. "It's been an outstanding experience."
And they get one more game tonight. One final time to play on a Friday night, something that didn't happen every week.
"The experience is totally different," Wells said of playing on Friday night. "The kids know the difference."
Next year, the difference will only be for the junior varsity players.
"It's been a great transition from year to year," Wells said. "I just couldn't be happier with where we are at and where we are headed."
Lanier named TD Club's team of month
Lanier was named the Touchdown Club of Atlanta's team of the week after last Friday's 35-17 win over River Ridge. Head coach Billy Wells and the Longhorns will be honored at the club's Monday banquet at the Fox Sports Grill at Atlantic Station. The featured speaker is Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson.