By RYAN HERMAN
PUMPKIN CENTER –– North Lincoln High’s football program is tired of being ordinary, and Chase Stehling plans on doing something about it.
As the Knights ran through conditioning drills at the end of Thursday’s season-opening practice session, second-year head coach David Maness shouted, “We’re not going to be ordinary anymore.”
Since making the state playoffs in 2008, North Lincoln has won just seven football games.
With only one year of high school football left for Stehling, the lineman-turned-tight end is proclaiming the losing ends now.
“This is my senior year here. This is my fourth year here and we haven’t been to the playoffs yet,” he said. “We haven’t got that playoff opportunity, and we’re going to be there this year. I guarantee it.”
During the offseason Stehling shed some weight and grew a couple inches, and figures to be more involved in the offense this season, Maness said.
Although he grew from 6-foot-3 to 6-5, Stehling is down from 260 pounds to 245 –– and all muscle.
With the weight drop came a burst of speed that can’t be overlooked.
“Coach thinks that I’m a big target and they’ve seen my speed, and I’ve lost a little bit of weight since last year and I’ve put more muscle on. They just want to use my speed to an advantage this year,” Stehling said.
“We think that he can do some things for us (on offense),” Maness added with a smile.
As Stehling made a goal to be better as a team, he knew he had to start with himself first.
“(I lost weight) just to make myself better. I was pushing myself and training harder,” he said. “We’ve got a good program going on here. Coach Maness has flipped everything around.”
The Knights went 3-8 in Maness’ first season, with all three wins coming in Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference play. But this year and for the next four years, after being a part of the 2A classification since 2005, North Lincoln is a 3A school.
The Knights are members of the new North Piedmont 3A/4A Conference, which boasts the defending 2AA state champion in South Iredell, and also last season’s 3AA Western Regional runner-up in Statesville.
Also part of the new league are North Iredell, West Iredell, Alexander Central (4A), Lake Norman (4A) and Mooresville (4A).
With that being said, what lies ahead as far as conference play goes doesn’t weight heavily on Stehling’s mind.
“They put their pants on the same way we do –– one leg at a time,” he said of his new league foes. “We’re not worried about it. We’re just going to go out there and do our thing.”
Making the move from lineman to tight end has Stehling even more thrilled about opening the season on Aug. 23 at Lincolnton.
He said he’s been working more than usual this offseason to make the transition and to help in any way he can.
“I’m thrilled. I’m excited about it,” he said. “We’ve had tons of practice. We’ve been doing our 7-on-7s. I’ve got my drops down. I’ve got my catches in. I’ve got my touchdowns in. My jitters are going. I’m ready to get out there and show everybody else what I can do.”
What Stehling –– and his teammates –– plan on doing is bringing North Lincoln football back to prominence.
“We don’t want to just get by this year like we have the past couple of years. … We’re going to be extraordinary this year,” Stehling said. “We’re going to go out there and we’re going to get that playoff berth. We’re going to open it up, and we’re going to bring it.
“August 23 is our debut. We want everybody to be there.”