“I think it’s a natural thing for teenagers to get a little swagger after getting off to a good start. It happens to college guys and pros, too. You tend to start listening to the hype. You think that you’ve arrived, and start to get away from the things that got you there to begin with. That was an area we addressed,” explained Ryan.
“But now, it’s like ‘Hey, you don’t have to worry about that anymore.’ We’re back down a little bit. We’ve dropped our last two. Now stop listening to all that nonsense and let’s get back to work and count it as a lesson learned.”
Coming off a 56-28 loss to Cleveland High School and last week’s 22-0 loss to Polk County, the Mustangs must now prepare for their next challenge, a highly talented McMinn County Cherokee team.
“These games aren’t going to get any easier. Friday night we are going to face a really quality football team. The Cherokees are a combination of the physicality of Polk County or Bradley and the athleticism of Cleveland and Ooltewah. They really do have it all,” Ryan said.
In preparation, this week’s worth of practices have been a return to fundamentals in an effort to re-spark a flagging offense and a defense that is still trying to figure out what’s happened the last two Fridays.
According to the coach, after three weeks of wins, the team entered into a holding pattern during practices. By returning to the basics of blocking, tackling and assignments, Ryan hopes to revitalize a team that showed plenty of heart and fire earlier this season.
“I think these last two games have been kind of a wake-up call. Sometimes that isn’t necessarily a bad thing with a younger team. I think this will bring them back to earth and hopefully ground them. Hopefully, this will help them realize we still have a lot of work to do to be the football team we want to be,” explained Ryan.
“We’ve been telling the guys that we are at the midway point and are still on the winning side of things at 3-2. But, there are five very tough ball games still ahead for us. We have to find a way to get on the plus side for the second half, too.”
That could be a tall order for the Mustangs. This week the team faces the defending 5-AAA champion Cherokees, kicking off fives-straight district games to end the season (Soddy-Daisy, Bradley, Rhea and Ooltewah.)
Another storyline going into Friday night is one of last year’s greatest Mustang offensive tools being used against them. In the offseason, Kelvin Wells Jr., left Walker Valley to transfer to McMinn County.
During the move Wells, who tallied almost 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns last season, had some chin-music for his former teammates. It’s a subject that still remains a sore spot for several of the veteran players on the team.
“To tell you the truth, we have been trying to downplay it. But, the way everything happened, there are some feelings of betrayal and disappointment. McMinn has another good running back that we need to worry about. We’ve been trying to keep the kids focused so it’s not all about that one,” Ryan stated.
Eliminating the mistakes and returning to playing with the heart and fire that captured the county’s attention is the main order of business for Ryan and his Mustangs. The ability to come back from adversity and grow as a team and as players will be the ultimate test for this Walker Valley squad, and that starts and ends with effort and solid fundamentals.
“I can hold my head high and walk off the field feeling good if I know we’ve gone out and done everything and played our very best even if we get beat. That’s all you can ask of these guys. But, when we go out there and blow assignments and run around like we’re not sure what’s going on — that’s when things get frustrating,” said Ryan.