New Lewis County coach Bryan Hoover looks to the Bible to inspire his football team.
The proof is right there on the front of his royal blue T-shirt: “Men of Sword and Shovel.” It’s a reference to Nehemiah 4:17, which reads in part: “The laborers who carried the loads worked with one hand and held a weapon with the other.”
To be sure, the Lions are not rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and there are no Samaritans, Ammonites or Philistines about to invade Vanceburg, Garrison, Black Oak and Quincy. Lewis County is, however, trying to restore some respect – an 0-10 record last year and 7-43 over the last five seasons.
To Hoover, the parallels are apparent.
“Obviously, anytime you go in and rebuild something, it’s going to require a lot of work, a lot of effort and a lot of commitment with everyone that’s involved,” Hoover said. “While we’re rebuilding, we’re gonna have to defend what we’re building.
“For our rebuild, it’s not gonna stop Nicholas County (the Lions’ opponent Sept. 11 in Carlisle) from trying that Week 1 game we have. Just because we’re rebuilding, they’re not gonna take it easy on us and feel sorry for us.”
Senior Hunter Switzer has read all of Nehemiah’s 13 chapters.
“Growing up in church my whole entire life, I read a lot of those biblical stories,” Switzer said. “It’s just overall a great story in terms of our program that we got going on here.”
Senior receiver Peyton Spencer seemingly caught grief from Tollesboro to Firebrick.
“At a lot of schools, the football team is what is looked up to,” Spencer said.
Hoover’s first challenge came the week he was hired in March – the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools.
“I was unable to walk the hallways, talk to the kids, recruit the kids,” Hoover said. “I did things digitally just to interact with the kids. … If you have to shine a positive light on everything that’s going on right now, it’s slowed the process down for me and for the kids.
“We’ve got time to build right now. It’s worked to our advantage.”
Hoover had to win his players’ minds as much as hearts by approaching things the way a nose tackle attacks the center – head-on by being firm, fair, honest and consistent.
“And I think very early on they got the sense that I knew what I was doing and I knew what I was talking about,” Hoover said.
When he was hired, Hoover talked about “fresh energy.”
“When I mean ‘fresh energy,’ I’m a young, energetic guy,” Hoover said. “I relate to the kids very well; I like to tell my staff to interact with the kids like they’re people. We’re dealing with young men that we’re trying to shape into being better young men.”
When in-person classes were canceled this spring, Hoover took a road trip.
“So what I would do, I would get on the bus routes,” Hoover said. “I would ride with the bus drivers and the volunteers, and I would go deliver meals and introduce myself to the community, to the players, everything like that.”
Ask Hoover what will be different about this year’s team. He offers a two-word summary.
“Hopefully everything,” he said. “And nothing against any of the past regimes or anything like that. Obviously they had a district championship in 2011; we’re not too far removed from when Lewis County was successful.
“But in recent years it’s been a struggle, and the kids have taken their licks.”
Lewis County will have a new look at quarterback. Junior Dylan Hardy is the early favorite to replace 2020 graduate Moses Jackson, who led the team in passing and rushing.
“(Hardy) throws a good ball,” Spencer said. “It’s a nice spiral in the area where you can catch it; you don’t have to go crazy out here to wait for it.”
“We’ve got new schemes offensively and defensively,” Hoover said. “I’m not gonna get into the actual Xs and Os, because … I think this scheduling change works to our advantage; we’re not gonna have any film out on us.”
You could call Lewis County’s task gargantuan – the Lions scored 98 points last year, allowed 456, ran for 1,279 yards and threw for 358.
Junior Ethan Sizemore is the leading returning rusher.
Spencer said winning at least five games is a successful season. Hoover, meanwhile, wants you to remember one more word about the 2020 Lions – different.
“So I hope when we take the field and when we present ourselves, I hope it’s a completely different thing,” Hoover said. “And that’s not to say that what anyone’s done in the past is wrong, but I’m not coming in trying to mimic anyone.
“I want to do things my way and this team’s way.”