ORANGE CITY, Fla. — It wasn’t long after Brian Kells became the second-ever coach at Orange City’s University High School in 2012 that he received the tip. University was only a couple years old at the time and Kells wanted to build the program from the youth level up.
He brought in assistant coaches who knew the local Pop Warner Little Scholars scene well. This was how he heard about Lorenzo Lingard, the not-so-little seventh-grade running back terrorizing opponents across Central Florida.
At the insistence of one of his new assistants, Kells made seeing the West Volusia Wolves a priority. He had to see if Lingard was really worth the hype, if the halfback was the surefire superstar those in the know had claimed.
“He was everything people told me,” Kells told DieHards.
The first thing that stood out was Lingard’s size. His earliest days of Pop Warner with the Deltona Panthers were spent mostly at defensive line. Physically, he was a monster. Mentally, he was, too. Lingard played with a mean streak and it meant pre-teen tacklers couldn’t handle him once he moved to the offensive backfield.
Size wasn’t all there was to Lingard, though. He also had the sort of speed that can only be honed on the track. As a fourth-grader, he finished second in the nation in the 80-meter hurdles for the sub-midget division at the Amateur Athletic Union National Championships in Norfolk, Va.
“He was flying, running past people,” Kells said. “As a seventh-grader, he was a man amongst boys.”
For the next couple years, arguably Kells’ most-important job as a coach would have nothing to do with what took place on the field. The coach needed to make sure Lingard, who was set to become a Titan, couldn’t be swayed elsewhere.
Half a decade later, Lingard is in Coral Gables, Fla., ready to take the field with Miami for the first time when spring practice begins Tuesday. Lingard, the Hurricanes’ only 5-star prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings for the Class of 2018, has a chance to earn a starting job for a national-title contender after wrapping up a four-year career at University, which made him the most decorated player in the program’s young history.
“I always wanted everything,” Lingard told DieHards shortly before he signed his national letter of intent during December. “When I was working out, I was just visualizing those things.”
King of the camps
Lingard’s body is plastered with a trio of tattoos. Lingard’s left shoulder is etched with the nickname “Li’l Pete,” a reference to a nickname used by his father, Lorenzo Lingard Sr.
The two on his calves, though, are the ones easier to notice. Diving defenders trying to bring Lingard down from behind might accidentally catch a glimpse of the Mandarin Chinese character for “power and strength” on his left calf or the Roman numeral “III” on his right.
There’s no particular reason Lingard wore No. 3 during his career with the Titans — he just likes Los Angeles Rams All-Pro running back Todd Gurley, who wore the number at Georgia. The No. 3 on his calf is for something different.
Not much was expected of Lingard when he stepped on to the field at West Orange High School in Winter Garden, Fla., on March 7, 2015. Upperclassmen typically dominated the Rivals Speed & Skill Challenge, which is now the Rivals 3 Stripe Camp. Lingard, meanwhile, had just wrapped up his freshman season for a mostly unknown high school and claimed a single offer from Iowa. He returned home as the event’s running backs MVP.
“I think I surprised them,” Lingard said, “but, with that said, it just shows the talent from this area.”
His performances at the Orlando stops of the Rivals.com camps are unprecedented. After his sophomore season, Lingard added his second straight MVP at the Rivals Camp Series in Winter Garden. Last March, Lingard made it a three-peat. At Oviedo (Fla.) High School for the 3 Stripe Camp, Lingard became the first three-time running backs MVP in the history of Rivals’ camp series.
The 5-star running back got to compete at just about every elite-level camp heading into his final season with the Titans. He went to the Rivals100 5-Star Challenge in Indianapolis. He flew out to Beaverton, Ore., for The Opening finals, where he played on a 7-on-7 team loaded with fellow future Miami players.
In January, Lingard capped his career with his highest honor yet. The running back participated in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He finished his career as No. 2 running back in the 2018 class and the No. 25 prospect overall.
“I’m just trying to be a positive role model to the kids in my area,” Lingard said during the fall. “I have a lot of support from them. I want to show them what hard work can do and also be a leader for my state by playing in this game.”
Lingard will admit he’s a little bit of an outdoors type. He grew up hunting, fishing and riding dirt bikes. By his own admission, there’s not really a whole lot to do in his neck of Volusia County, particularly back when he was in third grade.
In a small town, an athlete makes do. Lingard rode bikes across town, racing speed traps and challenging friends to see who could post the fastest time on the electronic signs. In his backyard, Lingard could make himself his own little outdoor gymnasium. He’d stack up spare tires and run through them like a drill at any of the camps he would dominate years later. He even made himself his own bench press using an industrial broomstick and any weights he could find lying around his house.
“Work ethic,” said Alex Latow, who later trained Lingard at Latow’s Fitness and Nutrition in Orange City, “brought him further than his talent.”
A year later, he was already a track star, finishing second at a national championship meet. Speed became such a weapon for Lingard that his chiseled 6-foot, 195-pound frame often goes overlooked.
This is what happens, though, when a player is as open about his track and field aspirations as Lingard is.
Most springs, Lingard could take his mind entirely off the gridiron and instead shift his focus to MileSplit.com. Spring was for hurdles and for Lingard, it meant checking the best times in the nation. The two-sport athlete wasn’t content to just be the best in the state. He wanted to be the best in the nation. He wanted to be good enough to compete in the Olympics.
2020 Olympics my goal
— Lorenzo Lingard JR (@d1champ99) November 6, 2016
Lingard feels he could’ve won two state championships as a junior. Instead, he faulted during the 300-meter hurdles at a district meet and had to settle for just a state title in the 110-meter hurdles.
A year later, Lingard did what he wanted. He took home his second straight title in the 110 and nabbed the elusive 300 championship. At one point, the hurdler owned the third-fastest time among juniors across the entire nation.
At some point, the running back would like to become a two-sport star for the Hurricanes. His biggest focus when working with Latow this fall was to build up strength in his legs. Lingard arrived at Miami faster than ever.
“I was really excited to see him run track this year,” Latow told DieHards during December. “He says he feels faster.”
Gatorade Player of the Year
The Titans didn’t even need to get to their first real game with Lingard to know the hype was warranted. They opened the 2014 season with a preseason tuneup against Orlando’s University High School, which reached the postseason a year earlier.
They unleashed Lingard right away. He scored two touchdowns right off the bat, and broke off long run after long run in the first game of his freshman year. The next two weeks, he was even better. Lingard ran for 200 yards against Deltona in his first regular-season game, then ran for another 200 a week later against New Smyrna Beach.
His shooting-star freshman campaign featured the single play Kells says he’ll remember above all Lingard’s others. Against Hagerty High School of Oviedo, Lingard caught a pass in the flat with a pair of defenders bearing down. The first dove at Lingard’s legs, so he danced to stay standing. He rolled, using his left hand to keep his knees from touching the ground as another defender came in high. Lingard, somehow, slipped away, still standing. He rumbled in to the end zone for a touchdown.
Every St. Patrick’s Day, Kells shares a photo of the play on his team’s Twitter page.
“The harder I work,” his caption reads, “the luckier I get.”
— UHS Titans Football (@UniversityHighS) March 17, 2018
Lingard’s high school career ended much earlier than he hoped. When Hurricane Irma pummeled the Sunshine State, the Titans’ regular season shrunk to eight games. When they dropped two October games to Oviedo and Lake Mary, their postseason hopes effectively vanished altogether.
None of it mattered. With 1,701 yards and 26 touchdowns, Lingard won the Gatorade Player of the Year award for Florida.
For much of his life, Lingard was a one-man team. Fellow early enrollee Gilbert Frierson, a former 4-star cornerback from Coral Gables, still remembers their Pop Warner days, when Lingard was one of the only players to score against his Coconut Grove Night Riders.
In South Florida, Lingard will play with a team ready to contend for national titles. It won’t be long until he’s one of the most important parts of that journey.
“He hasn’t found himself yet,” Latow said. “He’s played around decent talent in the area, however he’s always been the best. Regardless of how humble he is and how good his work ethic is, you still don’t have to unlock something that you had to in the past.
“He’s never been an average player on his teams. He’s always been the best.”
The post Next Generation: Lorenzo Lingard brings long resume of athletic accomplishments to Miami appeared first on Diehards.
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