The scrimmages, jamborees and dress rehearsals are over. Now it’s time to strap on the pads for real and play by the rules.
The Walker Valley Mustangs will be looking to run full speed right out of the gate Friday, when the East Ridge Pioneers roll into “The Corral” for the 2014 season opener.
“It’s the real deal now. Hopefully, the things we’ve done this offseason in the weight room and conditioning will start to pay off. We hope all the dress rehearsals and preparation will get this season started off on the right note,” said Mustangs coach Glen Ryan before Wednesday’s afternoon workout.
“I think we are (ready). There are always some uncertainties going into the first ballgame. I feel like this team has prepared well and are ready to go. We will find out Friday.”
Meeting a team in a season opener presents even more challenges than simply preparing a team physically and studying Xs and Os. It also means getting ready for a team more or less blindly with a lack of study material to pick from.
“It definitely poses some challenges,” said Ryan. “With the first game we don’t have [current team] film to swap. We just swapped jamboree film. You might see a series or two on both sides of the ball, and that’s about it. There are definitely some challenges,” said the coach. “The first game you have to be prepared for a trick or two up their sleeve. We have to let our guys know that even if they haven’t seen what it is, they have to be prepared for it.”
The Mustangs coach said the one thing he has seen enough of, even with a shortage of study film, is the speed of the Pioneers. Ryan is hoping the preseason conditioning that continued through camp will pay some early dividends with the heat and humidity expected to be the worst it has been all summer.
“East Ridge — a lot of speed on that football team,” said a serious Ryan. “They’ve got guys that can run and they do a good job of tackling. They’re aggressive. Those are just some of the things they have going for them,” admitted Ryan.
“We’re hoping one thing that may give us a leg up a little bit is their depth. They have seven guys going on both sides of the ball as two-way starters. We’re hoping our depth, especially in this heat, will play a factor.”
The Mustangs will take the field with less than a full complement of horses, as a few of the Herd are still working through bangs and bruises.
“We’re getting there,” Ryan said of working toward a healthy roster. “Obviously, we’re still missing a couple of guys we are counting heavily on. But we’ve had guys step up and show they can get the job done in an adequate manner. That’s all we ask. When we lose somebody, somebody has to step up and fill the shoes. We’re relatively healthy. We feel like we’re in good shape and ready to get this thing going. I know the guys are excited,”
The coach said he has made no changes in offensive or defensive schemes because of injury.
“We’ve plugged them in and they have had to step it up and get the job done,” said Ryan.
Even seasoned veterans get the occasional butterflies, particularly before the first kickoff of the first game. Ryan feels the Mustangs are beyond that point already, and credits the jamboree atmosphere for providing a taste of distraction for the team.
“It’s the first game, that’s where the jamboree kind of comes in a little bit. A [normal] scrimmage is in a scrimmage setting. There is not a very big crowd, not a lot of noise, not a lot of hoopla,” he explained. “That’s where I think the jamboree plays such a neat role, especially with the jamboree at Finley. There is a lot of commotion going on at jamboree. It kind of gives you a chance to prepare for that first-game crowd, band and all the other stuff that can get in and district you. Our guys had no problem with that. They were very relaxed, went out and took care of business. I think they are ready to go play.”
With the time for distraction over, the time of complete concentration on the job at hand in here for the Mustangs. It will take a combination of determination and sticking with the game plan to pull out a win, according to Ryan. Sound, fundamental football is what the coach said will be required for opening night success.
“For us to win the ballgame we have to do a good job of containing their quarterback. He is what makes their offense go. We’ve go to watch the couple of speedsters they have. We have to be aware of where they are at all times,” said Ryan.
“Offensively, we’ve got to go out and execute. We’ve got to move the ball and put points on the board. I think if we do those things and we do a good job in our kicking game, it should be an area we can get a little advantage on them.
“We’ve got to go out and just do well in our fundamentals. We’ve got to be good and solid in our kicking game, execute on offense and contain. They are going to make the plays, we just have to contain, defend and not get any penalties on defense.”