Lake Howell Football looks to capitalize on revised district and make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

If change is truly good for the soul, then the Lake Howell Silver Hawks may soar this prep football season. After years of falling short in ultra-competitive districts, Lake Howell suddenly finds itself in a winnable situation in 2019. A revamped Class 7A, District 4 has given the Silver Hawks hope for the postseason, a place they haven’t been since 2007. Last year, Lake Howell had to contend with the likes of East Ridge, Edgewater, Hagerty, Lake Minneola, Ocoee and West Port in a tough 7A-4 alignment. Hagerty won the district title and Edgewater advanced to the state semifinals. However, this year, East River, Lyman and Winter Springs join Lake Howell in the new 7A-4. Not one of the schools posted a winning record in 2018, meaning there is more of a level playing field for the Silver Hawks in ’19. “The district is wide open,” said Lake Howell coach Shaun Lorenzano, who is entering his sixth season as a high school head coach — second with the Silver Hawks. “It’s definitely going to be competitive and give our four teams a chance to build our programs. “Kids want to be a part of playoff teams, so it’s easy for the teams that love to recruit to snag our top guys,” Lorenzano said. “Now, we have a chance at building schedules that will allow us to come out of the shadows and build confidence in the boys and be ready for when the districts shift again. This allows for the same old cycle to be broken, at least for a little while.”

A new year comes with revised expectations

Friday nights have been tough for some time for Lake Howell Football. Last year, the Silver Hawks went 2-8, but that included a 14-0 win against Winter Springs. Dating back to 2011, that record was proceeded by 3-7, 5-5, 1-9, 1-9, 5-5, 4-6 and 3-8, respectively. Years of mediocrity, however, may soon be forgotten. The Silver Hawks return six offensive players, including promising quarterback Koen Koller and workhorse running back Xavier Evans. Koller, a junior, moved into the starting spot after Zach Levenson opted to give up football and focus on baseball. In turn, Koller threw for 1,050 yards, four touchdowns and ran for 200 yards and one score last year. The signal-caller is already turning heads as QBHitList.com ranked him the No. 27 dual-threat quarterback for the 2021 class and the No. 83 overall QB among premium members in the nation. “Being ranked in the nation doesn’t mean much to me,” Koller said. “I just have to stay humble, no matter how high I’m ranked.” Koller’s strong arm, elusiveness and ability to create a play out of nothing has earned him praise from a number of people. The shifty athlete also shined recently at the Florida Gators Elite Camp and figures to be a huge threat in the Silver Hawks’ triple-option offense. “Koen Koller is our starter and will remain so until he graduates,” Lorenzano said. “He is a dynamic, playmaking quarterback. He’s had a great offseason — and with his speed, arm and smarts, he will lead our offense.” The Lake Howell quarterback will benefit from several returning offensive starters up front – tackles Daniel Stadig (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) and Garrett Tipton (6-foot-5, 280 pounds), and tight end Cameron Nickols (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) – as well as some key returning skill-position players – wide receiver Kemarus King and running back Xavier Evans. Evans (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) is a bruising workhorse of a runner who should pile up some big numbers out of the backfield. “Xavier Evans will anchor the offense with his smash-mouth fearless running,” Lorenzano said. “We’re looking forward to him putting up big numbers at running back.” Lake Howell also returns wide receiver Hector Ortiz, a senior who missed last season with an ACL tear. “Hector is lights-out, tough, fast and smart,” Lorenzano said. “He had a great spring and I am looking for him to really shine this season.”

The defensive side of the ball

Defensively, Lake Howell returns only three starters to a team that will run a 3-4 scheme. But the returnees are good ones. Back for another go-around are cornerback Xavier Curry, defensive lineman Trevor Bell and linebacker Ethan Hardesty. The Silver Hawks also get back linebacker Julian Creech, who was a backup last season and will contribute on both sides of the ball this season. “Our defense at Lake Howell has always prided ourselves on swarming the ball and creating turnovers,” Trevor Bell said. “I’m feeling great about our defense as a whole. Our linebacking unit features one of the best upcoming players in the area in Cameron Nickols, who I feel is really going to blow up this season after being Second Team All-Conference last year. “Not to mention, our defensive line will be beyond solid — with myself and two fast, lengthy defensive ends in Anthony Dexter (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) and Aidan Callahan (6-foot-5, 210 pounds). “I’m confident not many teams will have a lot of time to get the ball away. As for the concern of lack of experience, we have a couple of young players in some slots on defense, but they’re some ballers and will soon be some of the best in the area.”

Keys to success

That mix of veterans and newcomers may be the perfect recipe to lift Lake Howell to victory more often than not in its new district. “I feel the new district really allows for a more competitive atmosphere among the teams in it,” Bell said. “We win all of our games and you’re in the playoffs, so I’m feeling really confident about the new district. “Although it allows little room for mistake, the new district opens opportunities for not just my teammates to make the playoffs, but also the chance to beat our rival, Winter Springs in a district game, rather than just having the game without district win significance. “As for the whole district, it’ll be beyond competitive and I know each team will be working hard this summer to reach that playoff bid.” Lake Howell’s schedule also includes some tough non-district matchups with Oviedo and Hagerty, and some interesting games with Tenoroc (a fairly new school), Matanzas, Deltona and University of Orange City. “I think we have a really good chance of winning the district this year,” Evans said.