“Monday we were a little complacent. That’s typical of a team that has been down. That first win tends to make them think, 'All right!' But, it's our job, as coaches, to make sure we bring them back down to earth and see reality. We haven't arrived yet, and we can't afford to come out to practice and just go through the motions. We have to remain focused and we have to work every day,” Ryan expressed.
While the Wildcats haven’t taken the field yet for regular season play the team has displayed explosiveness on both sides of the ball during preseason scrimmages and passing league matchups.
Hixson shares a few similarities with Mustangs. After five consecutive losing seasons the Wildcats are also looking to a new coach to right the program, hiring former Rhea County head coach Jason Fitzgerald to take the helm.
Ryan explained that Walker Valley’s opposition will feature some great speed on both sides of the ball. A pair of physical running backs are complemented by a good-sized offensive line, and the team flies to the ball on the defensive side.
“They are going to be a tough football team. They have a lot of similarities with East Ridge, but Hixson is a better team. They have just as good a group of skill kids, and up front they are better. We can't go turning the ball over like we did Friday. We have to take care of the football and stay disciplined,” Ryan explained.
One of the biggest opponents the Mustangs might face is themselves this week as the team tries to balance last Friday’s success against the unfamiliarity of winning.
The coaching staff has placed a large emphasis early in the week on making the players focus on the task at hand and not getting hung up on the idea that other wins will just follow.
In fact, Ryan said there was plenty to take out of Friday, but most of it was lessons to be learned so the team doesn’t repeat the same mistakes in this vital Week 2 game.
“Last Friday was great. It's good to get off on a positive start, but we still have a lot of room for improvement. Each week we are striving to get better and better, because our opponents are only going to get better,” he said.
“The No. 1 lesson we have to take out of last Friday is taking care of the football. That hasn't been a big problem for us in the past, but we went back to fundamentals this week, working on strip drills and things like that because our backs have to do a better job taking care of the ball.”
He went on to say that blocking up front was another major area for improvement, and maintaining outside commitments to limit the big play were the second and third focuses after watching Friday’s game film.
But, overall the team feels good heading into Week 2 and is still fairly healthy. The squad is paying special attention to players who play both ways on the field. Ryan is making a special point to make sure no one player is taking too many reps and that everyone has a chance to catch their breath on the sideline to ensure the team stays fit.
Another big positive for the Mustangs this season has been fan support for the team. Visitors’ bleachers were packed to capacity at East Ridge with Mustang faithful cheering the team on, and Ryan is hoping to keep that momentum up.
“We have a great fan following right now, and I really hope we can keep that up. I think there is really starting to be some excitement up here about football. I'm glad to see it. The guys are glad to see it. Hopefully, we can just keep that train rolling. We want people to be excited about what's going on up here.”