After facing the stiffest pre-district competition they’ve had in years, the Henderson Lions are 0-2 heading into their first home game of the season against Jacksonville. And following last Friday’s game which found the Lions leading last year’s 4A Division 2 state champions before things fell apart as the game wound to a close, head coach Phil Castles has had a lot to think about.
“It has been an indoctrination by fire,” Castles said. “We’ve got so many kids that had not played in those Friday night roles before. They’ve gone through some fire, and we’ll have some more this week.”
Like Whitehouse, Jacksonville is a 5A team, and will pose a big threat to the 4A Henderson Lions. And though Castles says his team will need to employ many of the same strategies they attempted in their season opener, he’s concerned that Jacksonville may pose an even greater challenge.
“Honestly, I think Jacksonville may be a little better than Whitehouse,” Castles said. “This will be by far the fastest team we’ve seen. Any time you’re dealing with a lot of speed, that means big plays. That means it’s hard to out formation them. Against Whitehouse it was all on timing. This week, it’s all on athleticism. So we’ll get another test.”
Castles is particularly wary of Jacksonville’s two main wide receivers Chris Carpenter and Deshawn McCuin. McCuin has already committed to playing with TCU following his graduation this May. And with the Indians’ Jr. quarterback Tristen Shaewmake, who Castles compliments as a good “reader and executer of offense,” Jacksonville may pose the biggest challenge Henderson has faced this season.
But even though Henderson has yet to walk away with a win this year, Castles remains positive on the efforts of his players.
“Our intensity was pretty good throughout the game [with Pleasant Grove]” Castles said. “We had some mental letdowns that cost us some big plays, but truthfully our kids played hard and with a lot of effort the whole game.”
One player in particular that Castles highlights is senior Sevastian Deleon who has stepped in as quarterback following the sidelining injury Caleb Medford sustained during the season opener against Whitehouse. Not only did Deleon pass for 91 yards on nine completions in his first game as a starter with the varsity team, he had 41 rushing yards on three plays, regularly punted the ball on fourth downs and kicked off the ball after each Henderson score.
“He did really well, I thought, taking on that big of a burden all of a sudden and playing in such a close ballgame,” Castles said. “I think he’ll get better and better. The neat thing about him is he is a tough joker. He hurt his shoulder and never said a word about it and kept on playing.”
Though Castles is proud of the way Deleon has performed on the field, he’s even more impressed with how Deleon has carried himself off of it. After taking a big hit on a third down sack and missing a mistimed snap that sailed way over his head in the end zone resulting in a safety for the Hawks, it wouldn’t have been unfathomable for Deleon to come away frustrated. But instead, he took it in stride and responded.
“He comes off the sideline, gets his tee, comes back out there from the 20 and kicks the ball over [the receiver’s] head,” Castles said. “It was one of the best kicks all night. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t point fingers. He doesn’t look for a way out. When the lights come on, he just performs. He’s just a real fun kid to coach and be around.”
As Deleon fronts his team in their first home game of the season, he will do so in a stadium that has continually been revamped and remodeled. Following last Fall’s renovations which included updated stadium lights, visitors’ stands and locker rooms, Lions Stadium now boasts a new press box and home side seating. Construction crews have been working on this Phase II of the Lions Stadium renovation project throughout the summer, and though the press box will lack its elevator, the rest of the renovations will be ready in time for kick off at 7:30 p.m. this Friday night. As Henderson head coach for the last six years, Castles has seen the impact of these changes firsthand.
“The stadium has come so far in just five years,” Castles said. “It used to be a grass field and then we got turf. We used to not have a jumbotron on our scoreboard and now we have that. Our locker room was made in the ‘60s and it was terrible. Now it’s brand new and really nice. And now the new thing this year is the press box and home side. So just in five years that thing is totally different. It’s really nice and we feel blessed to have that facility. We’re proud of it.”