There's no rest for the weary when it comes to preparing for one of the state's deepest football districts, and McKinney is taking steps towards what it hopes is a bounce-back year in 5-6A.
In the fallout since the Lions wrapped up a 4-6 season, they adopted a different approach to their spring schedule. McKinney chose to spread out practices to three days a week, which allowed the program to devote more time to the weight room.
The Lions have already reaped the benefits from that change as they transition to the summer.
"Our kids got so much better and so much stronger during that process because we were able to lift in a different way," said Marcus Shavers, McKinney head coach. "We were very intentional with what we wanted to accomplish this spring and we took a united approach in everything that we were doing."
Shavers said that changing up the practice schedule allowed his players to lift heavier than in years past, when weight room time would be more maintenance-based to comply with the rigors of spring football. With a more spread-out schedule, that also gave the Lions more time to recover in between sessions.
"With this schedule, we were able to continue to lift heavy, give the kids a day to recover and come back to a practice," Shavers said. "We had kids that went up 10, 15, 20 pounds on their power clean maxes while we were in spring football."
During practices, McKinney has devoted that time to fortifying an identity that Shavers hopes will fall in line with the Lions teams that made the playoffs in 2018 and 2019 during the coach's first two years at the helm. Those groups paved their road to the postseason through a brutish run game, as well as stout play in the trenches and on defense.
Although McKinney was young in several key positions last season, the teams feels like it has the personnel to make that approach work.
Running back Bryan Jackson is the No. 27-rated player in the state for the Class of 2024, per 247Sports.com, and is coming off an all-district first-team year where he logged more than 1,000 yards of total offense and 13 touchdowns.
Jackson will have plenty of help in the backfield as well. Shavers anticipates Makhi Frazier, another cornerstone of McKinney's 2024 class, seeing time at running back as well. Frazier was an all-district second-teamer at linebacker who averaged 9.5 rushing yards per carry on just 12 carries last season.
And when either of those two aren't towing the rock, defenses will likely have their hands full with quarterback Keldric Luster, who transferred to McKinney following a two-year run commandeering the offense at Frisco Liberty.
Luster produced at a level like few quarterbacks in the state last season. He completed 68.9% of his passes for 3,435 yards and 30 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Named Star Local Media's all-area offensive player of the year, the 7-5A Division II MVP was equally dangerous on the ground where he carried the ball 182 times for 1,579 yards, an average of 8.7 yards per attempt, with 23 touchdowns and eight 100-yard games.
"[Luster is] a coach's dream. He stays very even-keeled out there and does everything you ask him to do. He's quiet and doesn't talk much but you can already see how influential he has been with his teammates," Shavers said.
All the more encouraging for Shavers is that he expects his offense to be led by the offensive line — a group that returns names like all-district performer Adrian Mackintrush, as well as Adrian Gallardo, Desmond Magiya, Branden Arnold and Courtney Eberhart.
The Lions have devoted plenty of offseason time to developing depth on both their lines, with TK Abrams emerging as a standout in the trenches on defense. Frazier will continue to anchor the linebacker corps alongside another all-district performer in Myles Elam, while Christian Ford and Xavier Filsaime comprise a potent one-two punch at safety.
Filsaime, right alongside Jackson as the state's No. 26-ranked prospect for the 2024 class, was McKinney's leading receiver last season with 463 yards but will see more time in the secondary heading into his junior year.
Shavers said Filsaime could still see reps on offense, where McKinney still intends to stretch the field despite its cadre of capable rushing threats. Receptions leader Dylan Rhodes gives the Lions plenty of experience in that area, while pass-catchers like Khali Best, a JV standout from last year, and Sincere Blakely, an Anna transfer, are other potential options for Luster.
"I think our offensive coordinator, Rowdy Harper, has busted his tail and done as good a job as I've seen up close for putting an offense together," Shavers said. "One thing we felt contributed to our struggles in the past was not having an identity. We wanted to make sure that we were intentional about everything we do in our program schematically, physically and emotionally.
"[Harper] has really been a big part of spearheading that and putting together an offense that will give our kids the opportunity to control football games."
The Lions will have some more opportunities to hone their chemistry on both sides of the ball during June when the team ramps up the summer portion of their offseason. McKinney begins its strength and conditioning program on June 6 and has a healthy diet of 7-on-7 reps, be it in a weekly league or multiple state-qualifying tournaments, and a lineman challenge to look forward to.
It all culminates in August when the Lions begin fall practices on Aug. 8 and build towards the team's season opener on Aug. 27 when it hosts Temple as part of the McKinney ISD Classic.