Lakota West Firebirds football comfortable amid chaos as practice resumes

Scott Springer
Cincinnati Enquirer

WEST CHESTER — The beauty of Tom Bolden's football coaching style is he turns the unexpected into the expected. 

Faced with the dilemmas of the coronavirus pandemic and unrest in many cities, the Lakota West High School coaching staff is happy they can coach and supervise their players again. Bolden figures about 80% of them were in shape and he doesn't mind sharing a little tough love for the 20% that were not.

The Motz Company is fixing up the football field at the stadium which will contain a new entrance. The hardhats are there now, but soon the Firebird helmets will join.

This week, Bolden had the players going through a gauntlet of ropes, heavy balls, weights, agility ladders and running, all while coaches in gator masks chewed some proverbial tail.

Welcome to "The Rock", a/k/a Bolden ball at Lakota West where they play the hand they're dealt.

"We hit the ground running Tuesday (May 26) when it all went down," Bolden said. "We decided we were going to get after it and work out as much as we could. We're just going to treat this as part of the chaos. We've got to play in the chaos. I think the system that we've got here is pretty on point. We're having a lot of success with it."

Bolden led Lakota West to a 7-4 record (6-2 Greater Miami Conference) in his first year after coming over from Colerain where the Cardinals have won the league every season since 2000.

It was the first winning record for the Firebirds since 2015 and their first playoff appearance since 2014. Many who played in the OHSAA tournament game at Elder last fall were underclassmen and now are back with a little notoriety.

Lakota West junior Tegra Tshabola is an Ohio State commit as an offensive lineman

In particular, 6-foot-6, 300-pound Tegra Tshabola is the area's highest-rated recruited, just slightly ahead of Roger Bacon's Corey Kiner, whom he played with in pee-wee ball with the West Chester Outlaws. Kiner is heading to LSU, while Tshabola has committed to the Ohio State Buckeyes at the ripe old age of 16.

"It's a lot of weight off my shoulders," Tshabola said of his OSU commit. "I can focus on other things now. I like the way the coaches treated me. They treated me like family like I was already a part of the team. I really appreciated that."

That said, the big guy's phone is still being messaged. Tshabola says he appreciates the attention and is keeping his options open.

Lakota West's Alex Afari (2) returns a punt for a touchdown in the second half against La Salle, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019.

Alex Afari is also only a junior and another player ranked highly by and Rivals. The 6-foot-3, 190 pounder is a tad bigger than his running back brother David Afari who now is on the Miami RedHawks roster.

Alex Afari is a cornerback, who played some wide receiver and returned punts for the Firebirds as a sophomore. He has offers from Akron, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Kentucky, and Michigan State with visits scheduled at Ohio State, Louisville, Virginia and Tennessee.

"Defense, corner," Afari said when asked what position he likes best. "I like to hit so I like defense. Whatever. I could do all. I can do anything, catch the ball, I can run it, return, I can do everything. I'm a big, physical corner."

Afari is very optimistic over the future of the Firebirds and he's surrounded by experience and good role models. LA Ramsby played at Georgia Southern and played for Bolden at Colerain. From a secondary standpoint, defensive coordinator Carlton Gray played at UCLA and in the NFL and corners coach Will Mahone played at Kentucky.'

"Alex talent-wise is all there," Mahone said. "He's got the size and he can play with anybody and keep up with any wide receiver in the league."

Returning at quarterback is Bolden's youngest son, Mitch, now a sophomore. Mitch Bolden took over in game four of his freshman year and is part of a winning group.

"There's a year under their belt," Bolden said of his 2020 Firebirds. "They're bigger and stronger and faster. It's crazy how young and athletic we are.  We have a freshman group that went 10-0 in football and 21-0 in basketball. They know how to win."

The Firebirds are slated to start Aug. 28 at home with defending Division II state champion La Salle. Their first official game with Colerain since Bolden's been on the home side of the field will take place Sept. 11.

"Things are going to be fast, things are going to be loud, things are going to be tough and nothing's going to be easy," Bolden said.