The scorching heat and long days haven’t deterred members of the Pocahontas County High School Warrior football team as they began practice in August.
The team of nearly 34 students dug in deep, ignored the weather and hit their training hard. The fruits of their labor was on display Saturday at the Meet the Team scrimmage against James Monroe High School.
Prior to the game, coach Doug Burns reflected on the past few weeks of conditioning and how the team has come together quickly.
“It’s a good group of guys and I’m very proud of the way they’ve been working so far,” Burns said. “Weather wise, it’s been very hot the last few days and these guys, they’ve battled through it. I really like their attitude. It’s a very team-oriented group of guys.”
From the beginning, Burns knew it was going to be an interesting year. With the loss of six seniors – including three receivers – the team had big shoes to fill.
“We lost Dalton Irvine, JD Hensler and Cade Walker – those three were our whole receiving core last year and all three started on defense, too, so definitely, those seniors left some holes for us to fill,” Burns said. “These first two weeks we’ve been looking to try to fill those voids and try to get guys in there that can do the job for us. We’ve got some very capable guys to step into those shoes and to continue on.”
While the roster has not been finalized, Burns continues to take note of which position the athletes thrive in most. With the help of assistant coaches and volunteer coaches, Burns said the line-up is getting organized.
“It’s still a work in pro- gress,” he said. “A lot of positions are kind of solidified, but there’s still a few that are kind of up in the air, yet.”
As the coaches work on fundamentals, both offensive and defensive, Burns said his main goal is to simply improve on the past and continue to have a solid team.
“As a coach, you just want to continually improve upon what you’ve done in the past,” he said. “Last year, we went with a different offensive scheme than what we’d ever done before and it worked very well. We had a lot of success last year, offensively and so for this year, we are miles ahead of where we were last year.”
The new offensive scheme was implemented last August and so the returning team members are familiar with what is expected and should be able to run the plays blindfolded.
“They know the terminology; they understand the concepts that we’re doing, so hopefully this year, the machine just rolls a little bit better,” Burns said. “You want to be a little bit more confident in your assignments, so, as a coach, the whole key is for kids to be able to play fast.
“We try to simplify it as much as we can so that when they’re out there on Friday night, they don’t have to think about it,” he continued. “They’re just doing it.”
Burns handles the defense in much the same way. It’s all about keeping things simple so that the athletes carry out plays as if they’ve been on the field their whole lives.
“We have a defensive system that we believe in and again, it’s about simplifying so the kids can just react to the football – don’t worry about thinking so much and just react and play fast,” he said. “That’s what we try to get accomplished anyway.”
In his fourth year as head coach, Burns has spent enough time with the players – some since middle school – that the give and take comes as second nature. The players know what to expect from him and he knows what they are capable of doing.
Along with preparing the student athletes for offensive and defensive play, Burns and the rest of the coaches prepare the team for away games by instilling confidence and reminding them the trip is not a vacation.
“They need to understand – and these guys do – it’s a business trip,” he said. “You’re not going to Disney World. We’re on a business trip. We’ve got something to accomplish when we get there.”
The trip itself is the hardest part of away games – a four-hour bus trip is exhausting no matter where you’re going – but Burns said the team finds a way to stay energized and game ready.
This year, the longest trip will be to Moorefield High School, which is a nice change from last year.
“Last year, we played Man away and then we played Cameron away,” Burns said. “Both those trips were four hours, so yeah, brutal. This year, it’s not bad, really.”
The season begins with an away game at Tucker County High School, August 26, at 7:30 p.m. After two more aways games – Moorefield High School, September 2, at 7:30 p.m.; and Pendleton County High School, September, 9, at 7 p.m.; the Warriors will play their first home game against East Hardy High School, September 16, at 7:30 p.m.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org