Lanier’s Tario Fuller (8) turns the corner as he runs by a Monroe County defender during last season’s game. (Photo: Craig Cappy)
Billy Wells didn’t deny it, Lanier’s bye week came at the perfect time.
His Longhorns were coming off the season’s first loss, a 56-28 defeat at the hands of Monroe Area, but more than that, the break split the season in half, five games done, five to play.
“Midseason, it’s awesome,” Wells said. “It gave us an opportunity to focus on our fundamentals, to get back to the basics during the bye week.
“Our focus has shifted since then.”
Starting this week, the focus turned toward Eastside, Friday's opponent.
Like the Longhorns, the Eagles are 1-1 in Region 8-AAAA and coming off a bye week. But unlike Lanier, Eastside entered this season after making the playoffs a year ago, a place the young Lanier program has yet to reach.
Eastside returned many of those players from that playoff team and Wells said the Eagles' strength is in their skill players.
“They run a lot out of the spread offense and do a good job of moving the ball,” Wells said, noting running back Jomandi Smith, who is one of three Eagles averaging more than 5.5 yards per carry, and that doesn’t include quarterback Demario Terrell, who has 677 yards passing to go with 154 rushing.
“They really do a good job of moving it around.”
Hence, the reset during the bye week.
“I think our kids, being such a young program, we have to keep our eyes on (the fundamentals),” Wells said. “We truly have to be better every week. Fundamentals are a large part of our focus in the development of our program.”
The new challenge for Lanier is dealing with a new standing; the one-loss Longhorns can’t hide behind the label of new program after such successes early in the season.
“For us one of the big issues is maturing and part of that is learning how to win,” Wells said. “We do spend a lot of time talking about maturity both on and off the field and how to handle success and how to handle failure.”
And the team leaders in maturity are also the leaders during games.
Running back Tario Fuller, one of the top backs in the county with 638 yards and nine touchdowns, is more than just a talent with the football.
“He is one of our leaders who has emerged through our first five games,” Wells said. “He pushes himself and pushes (his teammates).”
On defense it’s the same with Ricky Viengxay.
“He is very active in our games,” Wells said. “He’s one of those guys (always around the ball).”
Eastside Eagles (8-AAAA)
Coach: Rick Hurst
Record: 3-1 (1-1 region)
Last week: Beat Madison County 31-14
Lanier Longhorns (8-AAAA)
Coach: Billy Wells
Record: 4-1 (1-1 region)
Last week: Had a bye
Last meeting: Eastside won 20-14 last year.
Directions to Lanier High School: From I-85, go west on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and turn right on Buford Highway. School is on the left.