TWIN FALLS — Cory Holloway is by no means ready to let go of the success his Lighthouse Christian team has amassed over the last few seasons.
The third-year head coach has been with the Lighthouse program for 10 years. In that decade, the school has gone from a laughing stock to a consistent state championship contender. The Lions have won state twice since 2011 and finished either runner-up or third every other year in that span.
The Lions went undefeated and won the 1AD2 title in 2014. A year ago they lost in the semifinals to eventual champion Salmon River.
But key players from those squads, including Josh Fadness and Ty Giardina, are gone. The question around the conference, according to Holloway, is whether there might be a drop-off.
Not on his watch.
“I expect to be at the top. I don’t expect anything different from this group. I’m not ready to concede and call it a rebuilding year. I’ve been asked that by other coaches,” Holloway said. “We just reload. I’m not going to take anything away from these kids. They’ve worked had. Every year is a new year. We have to do our job and coach them up.”
Lighthouse Christian returns just five starters from a season ago and graduated seven players. The Lions have graduated a staggering 15 players over the last two years.
With an always difficult Sawtooth West slate looming, losing key seniors who won at the highest level is concerning for Holloway.
“To build that success, to lose that, two years in-a-row, that’s a big deal,” Holloway said. “That experience, that leadership, it’s (huge).”
But back is quarterback/ linebacker Connor Bosma, who split time under center with Fadness last year. Do-it-all senior Eric Silva returns as a two-way starter as well.
The big question mark for Lighthouse’s offense is at running back. In previous years the Lions have had a go-to bell cow to rely on. This year, Connor Holloway and Jonathan Hall are among those vying for carries. With help from its strong running game, the Lions averaged nearly 39 points a game in 2015.
“This is probably our first year in a few years where we don’t have a, ‘That’s our running back.’ That’s what we have to figure out,” Cory Holloway said. “Game speed is a whole other thing than practice.”
In addition to figuring out the tailback spot, Holloway must figure out how to compensate for his team’s lack of size. Lighthouse’s line is not particularly big this year. While the Lions have speed to burn, a lack of bulk in the trenches is cause for concern, according to Holloway.
But as he has done over the years, Holloway intends to adapt to his personnel. The Lions lost star running back Adam Taylor to a broken arm just before the playoffs in 2014; they managed to average 48 points per game in the postseason on their way to the state crown.
What Lighthouse Christian lacks in size they will almost certainly make up for with something else. They always do.
“Every year we’ve done something different,” said Holloway. “I’m guilty of changing things around. I’m always trying to figure out what teams will give us and what we can take.”
With so many starters gone from the 2015 team, much of the positioning on the depth chart is still up for grabs and has led to intense competition among players. That competitive fire in practice led Holloway to say that this year’s team is actually ahead of where the 2015 squad was at this time a year ago.
“I told these guys on Wednesday, I thought they were further by the third day than they were last year. And that was with a great group of football players,” Holloway said. “I think this group understands that they might not have all the automatic spots kind of in place, so they’re going to have to work really hard to be successful. I’m happy with where we are right now.”