By Jeff Nations -- email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Andre Lake dealt with his share of testing while playing cornerback for Randolph-Macon Academy last season.
Opposing quarterbacks took one look at the 5-foot-7, 160-pound defender and seemed to reach a collective opinion regarding Lake and the rest of the Yellow Jackets' smallish secondary -- big-play opportunity.
"Because we're so small, they come out thinking they can look down on us and just throw it over our heads and it will be game over," Lake said. "That's not the case."
Not so much. Lake finished the season without an interception but did tally 19 tackles while effectively holding his side of the secondary. Graduated teammate Nathaniel Nguyen had three interceptions and five pass breakups, while free safety Ryan Pile had two picks and strong safety Kevin Slaton added another.
Although Lake is counted on once more as a two-way starter for R-MA, including reprising his role as part of the Yellow Jackets' 1-2 punch at running back, the junior from Laurel, Md., admits that playing defense remains his most fulfilling role on the football field.
"I like defense because believe it or not, when I make a tackle I feel like I've accomplished something," Lake said. "It's more than a touchdown to me. I stopped, I helped out, I contributed."
Lake did his share on the offensive side last year, as well. After R-MA coach Frank Sullivan determined that Kevin Slaton, the team's leading rusher in 2010, was sorely needed as a full-time defensive player and had to share carries out of the backfield last year. Lake got the call to help tote the ball for the Yellow Jackets.
"I do what I can to help," Lake said. "Wherever coach wants me, that's where I'll go."
In R-MA's opening game of the season on the road at Sidwell Friends (D.C.), Lake tallied the team's first points of the season with a touchdown run that helped the Yellow Jackets pull off a 23-18 victory.
Lake finished the year with 60 rushing attempts for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Slaton finished with 480 rushing yards on 80 carries with three rushing touchdowns. That production at tailback has Sullivan toying with a new idea for his team's backfield this season.
"It's nice to have Slaton and Lake back," Sullivan said. "They're real experienced back there. We may tinker with playing them both at the same time this year."
Lake would be glad to help, as the Yellow Jackets could be searching for new offensive options after losing both fullbacks and last year's starting quarterback, Collin McCabe, to graduation.
"I think we're two different types of running back," Lake said. "Kevin's more of a weaving, slippery type of running back -- hard to tackle. I'm more like a run straight through you running back."
Lake is also a difference maker on special teams. He tallied a 78-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in last year's win over Quantico. His best moment, though, was a bit less flashy -- under the lights in a rare Friday night game at Hancock (Md.), Lake delivered a crushing hit while playing on the kickoff return coverage unit for an open field solo tackle. Just thinking about that play still draws an almost involuntary smile from the rising junior. He's hoping to add more than a few moments like that to his memories this coming season.
"My expectations are high," Lake said. "I want us to do better than we did last year. Win or lose, I just want to play with these guys, because I've really grown with them. That's all that matters to me.
"It's been working out. All we've got to do is just put in the effort here in practice and execute as a team, and then we should be good."