Maybe Walker Valley High School should place a semi-permanent sign in front of the school on Lauderdale Highway that reads “Work in Progress.”
That’s how Mustangs football coach Glen Ryan sees his team — a work in progress. The one thing Ryan has not seen in the Mustangs is a tent-folding attitude. Walker Valley will need both of those trends to continue Friday to pick up a second win in as many weeks when the Sequoyah Chiefs come to “The Corral” looking to round up the Herd.
The Mustangs have newfound pride in their gait after picking up their first opening game win in seven years with a 21-3 victory over East Ridge. Ryan will find out how durable the young Stallions are and if the ability to overcome hardship — as they did against the Pioneers — remains intact against the attacking Chiefs.
“We are a work in progress every day. The one big difference is, our kids are learning how to be resilient and learning not to fold the tent when things go wrong. Last Friday night just about everything that could go wrong went wrong the first half. But yet we hung in there. The defense kept us in the game and had a huge block on a field goal attempt. We finally got some things clicking on offense and were able to put some points on the board,” said Ryan.
“That is the one thing I think with this team that I’m probably proudest of early on in the season — the fact they have been resilient. Even in our scrimmages they never folded when things went bad. They kept fighting and fighting and fighting. That’s what we want out of our football team. In years past we’ve had a tendency to fold our tent when things went wrong. We’ve made huge strides in that area and I’m proud of them for that.”
But, as Ryan said earlier a jamboree win or opening game win does not make a season. There are still many steps to take, according to the coach, to get the Mustangs where he feels they need to be overall.
“We’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of work to do to get where we want to be as far as a football program goes. We’ve got to get where we can come out and get a lot more consistent. We’ve still got a lot of people on our schedule we have not done well against in the past. We need to start beating some of those guys. We haven’t beat McMinn, we haven’t beaten Polk. We still haven’t beaten Bradley. Those are the people we play. We have yet to break through to the winning column of those guys. Last year was the first year we beat Red Bank. We’ve got to get to the point where we are beating some of those guys we have never beaten before,” he said.
He hopes the season-opening win, however, will go a long way as far as building the positive, “can-do” attitude needed to become the team he knows the Mustangs can be. He is looking for continuing improvement and a continuing positive attitude to help Walker Valley keep building a solid foundation.
“It’s always good to get started off on a good note. You’d rather have a ‘W’ than a loss after the first week. That’s something we can take as a positive and build on to get ready for a good Sequoyah team coming in here Friday. They manhandled Tellico Plains. We have watched them on the field and they are bid and strong and physical. We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Ryan said of the upcoming matchup.
“Like I said after the jamboree, that win doesn’t make our season and neither does the win last seek, but it gets us off to a good start. We have nine more games to go in the regular season and that’s all we can look at. We’ve got to look at each week. Our little scouting report that we do for the guys kind of shows them where we are; we’ve still got all those steps to climb. Each week gets a little bit tougher and a little bit tougher. Hopefully, if we do a good job our players are getting a little bit better and a little bit better every week, as well.”
One thing Ryan does not want to see every Friday is his defense on the field for most of the game. He is counting on a quickly maturing young Herd to solidify enough to give the defensive unit regular breathers, although he is proud of the early mob mentality performance of the defense against East Ridge.
“It was a ‘convincing win’ kind of thing, considering we started out a little sluggish. Then we came back. Our offense still was kind of erratic, but our defense just played as good as I’ve seen them play since I’ve been here. The were swarming to the football and playing like I want our defense to play. It wasn’t just one or two guys hitting the ball carrier, it was four, five and six guys every snap hitting the ball carrier and just pounding him. Finally they just pounded them into submission. That’s what you want out of your defense, that swarming, attacking-style defense that gets after people and is relentless. We showed that in the second half Friday night. I think that gave the guys some confidence and made them realize, ‘We can do this, this is how we need to play,”” he said.
Ryan said he wants the offense to pick up the pace and reach a position where it does not rely on defense to win football games, but the coach feels this is going to take another game or maybe two.
“We expected our defense to be a little bit ahead of our offense. But, we’re hoping it doesn’t take long. I don’t want to have to always rely on our defense,” he emphasized. “We’d like to get our defense off the field and let our offense get out there and grind it and grind it and grind it, then let our defense come back out and do their job again. But, they are going to kind of have to carry us a bit. They are going to have to keep us in ballgames until our offense gets in sync. That’s just part of it. They have the experience on that side of the ball. The have some young guys also that have really been doing a good job — stepped up and played well for us.”
As well as the Mustangs played last week, Ryan knows it will take an even bigger effort this time around. A solid performance is expected, but a definite upgrade in the level of play will be needed to beat back the attack from a team which has also had a week to tie up loose ends.
“We’ve got to elevate our game from last Friday night,” he said. “The old saying is teams make their biggest improvement from week one to week two. Generally that holds true. Hopefully, we are going to make huge improvements. But, at the same time, Sequoyah is going to make big improvements too. We’ve got to come out and we’ve got to play a lot better ballgame than we did last Friday night.”