The time for the Lingleville football players to step up is now — or never.

That’s according to second-year head coach Troy Sparks, who brought with him a new approach — emphasizing more intense work off the field plus a stronger mental outlook — to try to jump-start the Cardinals’ six-man gridiron program.

The Cardinals are 1-3 on the season after Friday’s game against Blum.

“I think it was a good change for us,” senior Brodie Cahoon, a two-year letterman who plays center and defensive end, said of the changes Sparks implemented. “Our weight program has gotten a lot better. He’s got it in our minds that we can do more than we thought we could.”

Running back and safety Bailey Fenn, who is in his fourth varsity football season, said Sparks’ attitude gets the players pumped up for their games.

“He gets us motivated to do our best on the field,” said Fenn, who is a running back and safety, and also participates in basketball and track for Lingleville. “We went from a coach who was real laid back to a coach who is getting us to work harder and reach our full potential. The way he pushed us to the weight room built our speed up, and our blocking has improved.”

Senior Chase Carlson, a safety and running back who also runs track for the Cardinals, said, “Coach Sparks definitely pushes us to our limits. He never lets us lay down. We’ve got a lot more offensive and defensive skills.”

Lingleville got off to a fine start this season with its 41-28 victory over Evant on Aug. 27.

But in their second game, the Cardinals took it on the chin from one of the top six-man teams in the state, Borden County.

Lingleville’s scoring was limited to a safety in its 56-2 loss to the Coyotes, who were No. 1 in the preseason Class 1A, Division I coaches poll published in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine. Borden County, which entered this season with four returning all-state players, went into Friday’s game ranked No. 2 in the state by, behind another perennial power, Jonesboro.

Sparks said that in six-man football, unlike the 11-man game, immediate improvement is required to turn around a program.

“In six-man, it’s now or never,” Spark said. “Eleven-man takes years to develop. It has nothing to do with the program, it’s the numbers. “We’ve got to polish our game up now, or it’s going to be difficult for the rest of the year.”

Sparks noted that since the Cardinals have seven non-district games, they do have a little extra time to improve prior to their three District 11-A, Division I games.

The squad, which was 3-7 last year, has five seniors in all.

Senior Jerod Hagood, a 6-5, 280-pounder, has been one of the Cardinals’ bright spots.

“He’s not afraid to tackle,” Sparks said. “He’s a quiet kid. He just works his butt off.”

“Those seniors are amazing kids,” Sparks said. “They are a great group of young men. They do their homework and take care of business in the classroom.”

Unfortunately, the Cardinals lost junior fullback Adrian Briseno for the season to a broken leg in the second preseason scrimmage. Junior Devon Corpus has stepped in as the starter in his place, backed up by freshman Felipe Flores.

“My younger kids are really trying to step up and help,” Sparks said.

Sparks said it’s hard to speculate how much the squad could improve by the time district games start, but he added that staying injury-free and continuing to work on mental toughness will be crucial.

After the first two games, Tom VanKraninburg led the Cardinals in passing with 187 yards, and thrown two touchdown passes. Carlson and Fenn were virtual co-leaders in rushing, with 144 and 143 yards, respectively. Fenn had two rushing TDs, plus 48 receiving yards.