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Thornton Starting Changes at Lees-McRae PDF Print
Written by Jac Coyne   
Wednesday, 09 October 2013 12:02

Where do you start?
When a coach takes over a team that has lost 43 of its last 44 games dating

back to 2010, what is his first move? Do you start from scratch – just burn the whole thing down and go from there? Or do you take what you've got and do your best?

That was the dilemma facing Darry Thornton when he accepted the daunting task of reshaping the Lees-McRae (N.C.) College lacrosse team. Fresh off an 0-15 campaign in 2013 when the Bobcats were outscored 264-48, which computes to an average loss of 18-3, Lees-McRae had only 19 players returning and some pretty grim prospects.

"I talked to some of my coaching brethren and they said, 'Why not? You know what you're doing and you know how to build a program,'" Thornton said. "Just talking to Mr. McPhail, our athletic director, he was absolutely phenomenal, giving support and wanting to take the program to the next level. He wanted to take it out of, for lack of a better word, the doldrums it had been in for the last couple of years. I came down and I absolutely loved it."

Thornton is no stranger to building programs or to Lees-McRae. He started the nascent men's and women's programs at Mt. St. Mary (N.Y.) before trying to get a bottom-feeding Mohawk Valley (N.Y.) Community College to respectability over the past two seasons in the NJCAA. He knew of LMC after spending a year as an assistant at Queens (N.C.), which was in the same conference at the time.

When he arrived at Lees-McRae, which is in Banner Elk, a town with a population a tad over 1,000 on the Tennessee border high in the Appalachian Mountains, Thornton went to work immediately. He quickly cut all ties from the past. No player was allowed to wear the same number he had worn in previous seasons. The Bobcats changed equipment providers and the color schemes on the helmets and jerseys were revamped.

"We've had one win in three years here, so we have to change the culture on and off the field," Thornton said. "Lay the foundation. We established a new identity with these guys. We're going down the highway of life and we can't worry what's in the rear view mirror. We need to focus on the task at hand and focus on the front windshield on the lacrosse highway."
Thornton also established expectations about what he calls
"the little things." Players are expected to wear matching socks to practice and the same t-shirt under their pennies. The use of the f-word in practice will result in an instant dismissal for the day. It took a while for the players to catch on to this new way of handling things, but it was craved by many of them.

"Coach Thornton's discipline level is something we needed," said junior goalie Ryan Harrison, the only Bobcat player to earn all-conference recognition last spring. "Me and [sophomore middie] Chris McDonald, who came out of the Army, talked about how the lack of discipline hurt our team. It made it so hard to accomplish things on the field when people weren't displaying it off the field."

"The inmates can't run the asylum," added Thornton. "We go to convocation. All the guys had to shave. When we walk off the field, it's two-by-two. It's very little things, but some of the guys weren't used to it, so they were looking at me like I had six heads. But for the most part it has been well-received."

  
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