Sharing one town with and neighboring would give most high school football coaches migraine headaches.
But Mike Lalli is not most coaches, nor does he falter under pressure. Instead the varsity head coach—now in his eighth season at the helm—invites the challenge of besting his team’s winning record from 2011 in hopes of earning a district and regional banner of their own.
“Every team in the Concorde, if not in the region, has the goal of getting to the regional championship,” said Lalli. “In order to get there you have to go on a week by week basis, get a winning record, qualify for the playoffs and challenge for the district.”
So, what will it take for the 6-5 Chargers from last season to make the transition to the top of a competitive district like the Concorde this year?
“For us we have to be consistent, disciplined and we have to maximize our talent at all times and not take plays off,” the coach said. “One of the things that hurt us last year—we had some injuries and then I think our kids didn’t really believe as much we could win and they didn’t give as much effort as they have in the past. So we hope this year that they believe they can win.”
Concorde rivals and , who were both senior heavy last year, graduated several starters from 2011. The Chargers remain fortunate, however, to return a bevy of players from last season and that experience could become a crucial advantage down the road.
Although Lalli feels positive about his squad’s experience, he is not counting his chickens just yet. The coach insisted in pointing out how both the Bulldog and Wildcat programs continuously manage to succeed, putting winning teams on the turf year after year. Make certain to mark down those two match-ups on your calendar this season.
“I don’t know if it’s an advantage but it’s definitely a positive for us,” Lalli said, regarding the team's experience. “When you’re as good as Westfield and Centreville was, you blow out a lot of teams. So, the kids who aren’t starting still get a lot of playing time—they have a lot of varsity experience.”
Quarterback is the one position where experience allows any football coach to breathe a bit easier. Fortunately for Lalli and the players, senior Sonny Romine returns under center this fall. With a full year as starting under his belt, the Chargers hold more confidence in their offensive leader.
“Sonny Romine’s our returning starter,” he said. “Anytime you have a second-year starter I think any team feels much more confident because that experience is crucial.”
Chantilly will continue to go to its bread and butter—the ground attack. Injuries forced Lalli to play several underclassmen at running back in 2011. That playing time benefitted the young sophomores, who are now juniors, and Lalli should feel more comfortable with his depth chart in the backfield.
“We have three juniors at running back and one senior,” Lalli said. “Then we have a sophomore transfer who will hopefully be able to help us out as well.
"If we’re successful we’re going to have a variety of people contributing,” he added. “But anytime you run the ball a lot, there are only going to be one or two guys to have most of the carries. Hopefully for us it revolves around 3 or 4 guys.”
The coach added that he can sometimes get overzealous about sticking with the run, yet he will switch it up at times to create a little more balance.
“We run the ball more than we throw—we're probably 70/30 at best,” he said. “It’s one of those things where I have to force myself to throw. It’s good for the team and opens up things for the running game.”
The Chargers are not as deep at wide receiver this season, while returning just one player who caught balls during game time in 2011. But the coach should find new talent at the position via players who advanced to the varsity level this season. Lalli believes in his young men and said he is proud of how disciplined they remain both on the field and in the classroom.
“We’ve been fortunate to have some really good students in multiple APs, while in multiple sports. Our right tackle (Joon Cho) as a junior, was in four APs and he got fives on all of his AP tests.”
That discipline and structure should help when Chantilly meets up with its rival district opponents later in the season. Though the outcome is uncertain, one thing is for sure—the coach will not have to pump his team up for the competition.
“Our schedule is set where out Concorde play is in the last five games of the season, and three of the five games are neighborhood teams,” Lalli said. “So, I don’t have to put as much emphasis on it. Everybody in the neighborhood grows up competing against each other and then you have Robinson and Herndon which are always difficult games. The kids grow up wanting to beat each other. Sometimes you almost have to de-emphasize it a little because the kids get so wound-up.”