HIGHLAND SPRINGS, Va. -- Highland Springs is a school that's used to winning a lot -- especially the football team.
Head coach Loren Johnson has compiled a 42-3 record with three straight state titles over the past three seasons.
You would understand if he didn't want anything to take his players focus away from football. But Johnson grew up playing multiple sports as a kid, and believes that's still a good policy for today's young adults.
He could have suggested track or basketball, but Johnson wanted the Springers to give lacrosse a shot.
"I just thought it was a cool idea for us at Highland Springs to have that opportunity where guys could do something in the spring that was very similar to football and basketball and track all combined into one," Johnson said.
So he went to Steve Shoul, the resource officer at Highland Springs, who was already an assistant lacrosse coach at Hermitage to float his idea.
Shoul, a 13-year veteran of Henrico Police, thought the football coach had lost his mind.
"You're 5A state champs and you want your players to play lacrosse?" Shoul recalled asking Johnson. "He said, 'Yes, I want these guys to play lacrosse. I want them to broaden their horizons.'"
So Shoul held an interest meeting to see how many kids might come out to learn about the sport. Over 35 athletes came, almost none of them with any exposure to lacrosse.
"I started explaining the game a little bit," Shoul remembered. "To be honest, I might as well have been speaking a foreign language."
David Goodwyn was one of the football Springers that attended that meeting.
"What is this?" Goodwyn thought to himself. "I've never seen a sport like this. I didn't even know a sport like this existed."
Their first practice was held on the tennis courts...and did not give anyone much hope.
"We were trying to throw and catch and it was the most terrible thing anybody could ever see," said senior Marques Fleming. "We were just so bad."
The Springers first season did not produce a single victory and they were outscored 80-11. But the players kept coming back, eager to improve and make some school history.
"The progress that we've made is tremendous," Fleming said. "Where we've come from that first day on the tennis courts to now."
"It's not winning and losing" Shoul added. "It's winning and learning. Every game, win or lose, we're learning and getting better."
Shoul has a passion for the game rooted in what it did for him during his high school years.
"It saved me from being around the wrong element," Shoul said. "I grew up in Baltimore City and had friends getting into things they shouldn't get into. My parents thank God I found this sport."
What lacrosse did for Shoul, he now sees it doing for his players today.
"I had some problems at home," Fleming said. "At that point, I was just like 'Let me get through high school and get a job. I really didn't want to do anything, but just finish school. Keep my head down and keep going."
"He had no plans after the day he graduated high school," Shoul added. "He had absolutely zero future."
Fleming has now played well enough to attract the attention of college programs, opening up possibilities he might have never considered. He doesn't keep his head down anymore.
"Always keep our head up, even after a loss" Fleming said. "Always keep our head up because we know we've learned something."
"I'm very thankful. I'm blessed to have the opportunity to be out there and play."
The Springers have won three of their seven games this year already and have a few left on their schedule. Their senior night will be held at Highland Springs on May 8.
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