Leander senior Alex Hensley begins practice like anybody else. He puts on his jersey and starts training with the linebackers. After the coach gives him the all clear, however, he flips around and joins the offense.
Hensley is one of a number of players on the Lions that play on the both sides of the ball. He was named to the second-team all-district list as a linebacker, but figures to contribute more to the running game as well this season.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” he said. “It’s tiring, but it’s fun. My favorite has to be running back because I play linebacker more. There’s a stigma to it but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. For the most part, I know all of what I need to do. It’s just about your mindset.”
Leander is a 6A school, but it’s on the edge in terms of numbers. According to head coach Tim Smith, they’re the fifth smallest school in the state and the smallest one in the region in the 6A classification.
The oldest school in the district has lost players when the last two times new schools opened up — first when Rouse opened in 2008 and again when Glenn started a team last year. But the Lions have made it to the postseason five of the eight seasons since Rouse opened.
“Growing up coaching and playing, it was kind of dumb to have a good player on the bench,” Smith said. “We have a bunch of those kids that have played on both sides. Alex Hensley is pretty much bored with our defense by now. He knows what he’s doing so we can steal him on offense.”
The assistant coaches recognize if a player is a crossover. He’ll begin practice playing with his primary group, and once he’s nailed a concept, the coach will inform Smith and the player will flip to the other side.
An offensive player still won’t learn all the blitz packages or be too involved in the defense and vice versa. They just have to know their checks.
Going both ways can also be beneficial, especially on the outside, where there are more one-on-one match-ups to learn how to exploit.
“Both of them help each other equally,” senior wide receiver/defensive back Jake Egelsee said. “Playing receiver, you learn all these tricks to help you beat corners. If you know those when you’re playing corner, it helps you understand what the receiver is doing better.”
On many teams, the offensive and defensive lines are inseparable. They are forced to be one of the most tight knit units on the team based on their job and how closely they work with each other on every snap.
Jeremy Kracy has enough talent to start on both sides of the ball and was the team’s top center a year ago. Now he’s the main man on an offensive line that lost one all-district player and a defensive line that lost two.
“I don’t think it’s anything too crazy,” Kracy said. “I’ve been doing it for awhile and I’ve got my guys on the offense and my guys on the defense. It’s not too bad being part of two families, it just feels like I have a bigger one.”
Dalton Flowers was a second-team all-district receiver last season despite a rotating cast of quarterbacks throwing to him. There will be more consistency on offense this year and he’s hoping for a big season.
But when his fellow offensive teammates are on the field playing defense, he won’t be afraid to let his voice be heard.
“The energy we have together,” Flowers said, “even if we’re not out there, we’re still loud and the people in the stands are cheering.”
Leander opens the season with back-to-back home games first against Killeen Ellison and then against Pflugerville. The Lions begin district play against LISD teams Vista Ridge and Vandegrift on Oct. 6 and Oct. 13.
Not just anyone can play almost every snap. It’s meant for older players that have put in the work and prepared themselves to take that kind of beating.
“We look for maturity,” Smith said. “They have to know one side of the ball before we allow them to move over. They know that and now they’re itching to move over. Football is physical on one side, and to them move over and do it on the other, they have to be ready.”