What they have experienced has never been felt by a group of football players before at the school.
What they are doing has never been done.
Lakeview has advanced to the playoffs for the fourth season in a row.
The Spartans have never done that in the history of the program.
But the seniors getting ready for Friday’s game at Lowell, might find that surprising. Because all they have ever known, since walking in the front doors of the high school, has been playoff seasons.
In all four years the current group of seniors have been in the high school, they have seen their football team in the postseason. It was a legacy that was important to them to uphold during their final year in the program.
“We have wanted to build a tradition at Lakeview of making the playoffs here. It something that wasn’t always expected here in the community, but now it has become an expectation and that is good for the program and the school,” said third-year starting quarterback Skyler Nichols. “I think what we have done is set a standard for success, so people look forward to playing for Lakeview and playing in the playoffs.
“They get excited about this sport at Lakeview now and it wasn’t always like that when we were younger.”
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Nichols and Travis Snyder, Lakeview’s two third-year varsity players, have been a big part of the recent run and can also remember what it was like before the current success.
“Back in middle school, stands seemed to be half-empty when we’d come to games. But now people are more excited about football here and I think that has something to do with the success the last four years,” Snyder said.
The credit doesn’t go entirely to this group of seniors. None of them played on the varsity team that started this string back in 2012. But they are carrying on the tradition and made it a goal this season to not let the playoff streak end.
“These kids, since they were freshmen, have been around the playoffs the whole time they’ve been here. They had a great group of seniors that worked really hard to get to the playoffs their senior year. These kids have worked their way up through a program that shows them that hard work pays off. I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys for what they have done, what they needed to do, to put themselves in an elite group. Nobody has ever done that, nobody has made the playoffs four years in a row here at Lakeview and they can say that,” Lakeview head coach Matt Miller said. “Hopefully, it won’t be the last group to say that.
“They have been a part of what is going on and they have now set their legacy during their senior year in making it and keeping the tradition going.”
Before making the playoffs in 2012, Lakeview hadn’t been in the postseason since 2003. Overall, the Spartans have only been to the playoffs eight times, with four of those appearances being the last four years.
The weight given to making the playoffs four straight seasons in this era can be debated. In the 1980s and the early 1990s, before all six-win teams automatically made the postseason, the Lakeview football program had several teams that would have qualified for the postseason under today’s rules. But it’s also true that several teams after the rule change had their chances to make the playoffs and fell short before this current run.
“Ever since they changed the rules to make the playoffs at six wins, every school has made that a goal and it was always there for us, but we could never quite get over the hump,” Miller said. “It used to be a lot harder to make the playoffs in the ’80s and ’90s, so I’m not going to discredit what they did. But since the playoff format has changed it hasn’t been done here. And it’s still not easy for everyone. For example, we are the only team in the SMAC East to make the playoffs this year.”
Another sign of sustained success by this current group is the three straight conference championships. The Spartans haven’t won that many titles in a row since getting four straight from 1982-85. Lakeview was pushed until the end to clinch this year’s title, needing a win in the final game of the regular season over Gull Lake to grab a share of the SMAC East along with Battle Creek Central and Mattawan.
“For me, winning the conference championship is the first goal for us. To win the trophy is a big deal,” Miller said. “It was nice work by this team to put ourselves in a position to win it at the end of the season.
“The thing I want for this team every year is to make the playoffs and win a conference championship – those are the two checkmark goals that we set for the team every year. We like where we are at with the program in terms of that. We figured out a formula that seems to be working for us. Not to say we won’t have some ups and downs, but it is working for us in terms of making playoffs and winning conference championships, so we are working to stay at that level.”
Lakeview set another standard last season, as this group of seniors were a part of a team that advanced to the third round of the playoffs. It was the furthest the Spartans had gone in the postseason in football since the 1983 team went to the state finals.
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Lakeview’s road to the playoffs this season starts in Lowell. And the seniors on this team, building off the experience of the last four years, will take its chances at another long postseason run starting Friday night.
“We came into this season looking to keep the tradition going,” said Lakeview senior Dre’On Kemp. “We wanted to meet the expectations of this program and make the playoffs this year, like we have the last several years. So that was a goal. There’s a lot of teams that aren’t in the playoffs, but here at Lakeview we are at a spot where we want to make the playoffs every year now and we expect to.”