Day Two of my football practice tour took me to Lincoln East, where the Spartans are coming off a 7-3 season in 2020 that ended with a quarterfinal appearance in the Class A state playoffs.
After attending only two Lincoln East football practices — the first was a team camp in June and the second on Tuesday — a few things are clear.
- The team has fun at practice. Remember — football is supposed to be fun, and East does it right. Smiles everywhere. Jokes, too. And, of course, focus when needed.
- Head coach John Gingery is beloved by his team. On multiple occasions, teaching moments ended with smiles on both sides. There’s clearly a special relationship between senior quarterback Noah Walters and Gingery. At times Walters had his arm around Gingery after a play here and there, listening to what his coach had to say.
- Got enough receivers, East? The Spartans have some talented wideouts to throw to. That was clear on Tuesday.
Who stood out at East’s practice? It’d be hard to start with anyone but Walters, the all-state dual-threat quarterback who might be the best in the state at the position. We profiled Walters and the high-powered East offense in June — you can read that right here.
As a junior, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Walters totaled 2,972 total yards, passing for 2,753 yards and 28 touchdowns while rushing for 219 yards and five scores. On Tuesday, you could easily see how in control Walters was of the spread offense. At times Walters even picked apart East’s first-team defense with backup receivers.
Walters is a confident kid, and you could see that during a drill where the East quarterbacks were testing their accuracy:
There's watching practice.
And then there's watching Noah Walters (@noah_walters12) throw a football at practice.
— Steve Marik (@Steve_Marik) August 10, 2021
Now, about those aforementioned East receivers.
According to maxpreps.com, the Spartans averaged 277.9 passing yards per game in 2020. East will need to replace its top three receivers in Austin Schneider, Brayan Van Meter and Carter Glenn, who combined to catch 89 passes for 1,545 yards and 16 touchdowns.
A couple guys who will be expected to take on a bigger role in the offense are seniors Cooper Erikson and Luke Greisen.
Erikson, a Wofford baseball commit, wasn’t active at practice as he was out with an injury, but he’ll definitely contribute during the season. East’s top big-play threat, he caught 26 passes for 558 yards and seven scores last season.
As for Greisen, the 6-foot, 180-pounder looked right at home as one of the corners in East’s defense. He stuck onto any receiver that entered his zone on Tuesday, and if it was an actual game, he would have had some big-time hits on passes to the flats. Offensively, look for Greisen to surpass his production from his junior year of 17 catches for 223 yards and two touchdowns.
How about the big guys who will be doing the dirty work for the Spartans in the trenches?
East will need to replace its top four tacklers from 2020, but it does return the 6-foot, 300-pound senior road block in defensive tackle/guard GeGe Crayton, who will be one of the key members of the offensive and defensive lines.
Crayton, who recorded 60 tackles last season, simply looks powerful. During one practice rep, he sliced through the Spartans’ second-team offensive line — which, by the way, had zero chance of stopping him get to the backfield, but that’s to be expected — and wrapped up the ball carrier. Crayton then proceeded to lift up said ball carrier like he was lifting a load of laundry.
Another powerful player along the O- and D-line at East will be junior defensive tackle/guard Sam Cappos, a 6-1, 240-pounder.
Cappos, who’s also an accomplished thrower in track (he placed runner-up at the state meet in the discus with a toss of 170 feet, 6 inches, and fifth in the shot put with a mark 54-3 1/2), was tied for the team lead in sacks last season as a sophomore with 2.5. He also had 27 tackles.
Sure, East’s offense threw the ball a ton in 2020 and will likely air it out again in 2021, and why wouldn’t you with one of the best quarterbacks in the state and the receivers at hand. But senior running back/safety Hunter Epp deserves a shoutout as well.
Epp led the team in rushing last season with 352 yards and four touchdowns. He also caught three passes for 35 yards and one score. On Tuesday he was the leader in every running back drill and looked strong with the ball in his hands. Defensively, he seemed comfortable at safety and should easily improve from his seven-tackle junior campaign.
Miss Monday’s practice report from Lincoln Southeast? It’s right here.
Here’s a photo gallery of East’s Tuesday practice: