Kris Stephens understood from the first day of Belleville East football practice that his second year as head coach of the Lancers would be wildly different from the first.
East lost 34 seniors from a team that won six games and qualified for the class 8A playoffs. For Stephens and his staff, that has meant going back to the basics.
So far, the new Lancers are 0-3 and have been outscored 140-56.
“Youth is certainly a part of it, but another factor is that we’re doing things right during the week, but not executing on them on Friday night,” Stephens said. “We just have to keep the focus on preparing the best we can ... This group’s fight and resilience is not a question. The mental part is there, we just have to clean up the physical.”
East will try for its first victory when it travels to Alton Friday for a 7 p.m. game against the winless Redbirds. It’s the second Southwestern Conference game for both teams.
KICKOFF: Belleville East (0-3 overall, 0-1 in conference) at Alton (0-3, 0-1), 7 p.m.
SCOUTING EAST: Despite the shaky start, there remains plenty of promise in the Lancers’ skilled-position players, namely quarterback Kienen Waller. The junior has so far completed 40 percent of 66 pass attempts for 422 yards and three touchdowns and is second on the team with 106 yards rushing on 28 carries.
But he has progressed. Last week, Waller led his offense to 386 yards against Granite City.
“Kienen has a really high ceiling because there is a lot he can do athletically,” Stephens said. “I think what we have to do as a staff is prepare a game plan that works to his strengths and then get him some protection to do what he is capable of.”
This group's fight and resilience is not a question. The mental part is there, we just have to clean up the physical.
Kris Stephens, Belleville East head football coach
Running back Roderick Morgan leads the Lancers with 71 yards on 22 carries; senior Quantavius Alexander and Tyreke Kerley each have five catches for 35 yards.
Defensively, East has surrendered an average of 435 yards per game and the 140 points it has allowed is just one more than conference-leading Collinsville. Granite City racked up 547 yards against the Lancers last week.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it — the defense has been atrocious,” Stephens said. “It’s a matter of execution.”
E.J. Aldridge has a team-high 32 tackles and a sack. Dondi Fuller has 31 tackles and two quarterback sacks. Nolan Willinghoff (fumble recovery) and Freddie Waller (interception) have East’s only two takeaways.
SCOUTING ALTON: The Redbirds took it on the chin last week against East St. Louis, 58-13, but have been otherwise competitive in their previous two games.
The offense is stacked with athletes like quarterback Taylor Price (5-15, 142 yards, TD); running back Darrell Smith (13 rush, 91 yards); and wide receivers Johnathan Bumpers and Kevin Caldwell Jr.
“We expect a lot of the same things this week that we saw last week against Granite. Alton has some really good athletes who can hurt you. The quarterback is a guy who is really strong out of the pocket and likes to sling the ball deep. We have to keep track of a really good set of athletes.”
But defensively, Alton has surrendered an average of 43 points per game.