SIDE VIEW: Football is just around the corner
Oh, boy! Look at what is just around the corner. I can hardly believe the 2017 football season is set to begin statewide July 31. It seems like only yesterday the Mountaineers were preparing to take on Murphy in the Western Regional Championship. My, my how quickly time passes.
Coming off an impressive 13-2 record in 2016, Mountaineer fans are eagerly waiting to see how well the 2017 team performs. As usual, the young men that plan to be a part of the football teams – both varsity and junior varsity – have worked hard in the offseason. They have put the time in working in the summer weight training and conditioning programs. In addition, they have attended summer camps and participated in several 7-on-7 games with good success. So, this upcoming 2017 team has done many of the things needed to give themselves the opportunity to win football games this fall.
As the 2017 season is now in direct sight, there are questions to be answered about this team, as there is every year with high school football teams nationwide. Gone are three major contributors on offense and defense in Alex McKinney, Todd Self and Jacob Yelton. This year, there is a stable full of young men working hard to step in and pick up the load. Will they be an exact duplicate of those men that are gone from the team this past year? No. But, each young man has different talents and strengths and will continue the tradition of Mountaineer football with pride.
As I have mentioned before, I have been a part of Mountaineer football and football in general for many years. Along the way, I have been privileged to learn a little bit from time to time about many different offenses, defenses and approaches to what it takes to be successful. Over the years, I have learned several lessons about what it takes to win and what to do to win games. And, unfortunately, but just as important, what not to do as well.
Near to or at the top of the list is, “The team that wins the turnover battle usually wins the game.” The past two years, the Mountaineers have won 14 and 13 games, respectively. When I look back at those two years, I see they have a decided advantage in turnover margin, meaning they have more takeaways than giveaways. During those same two years, they have lost two games only each year. And in those games, they lost the turnover battle. An old coach said, “The team that makes the fewest mistakes has the greatest chance of winning the game.” How true that is.
Also near the top of the list is, “To win the game, a team has to be able to run the ball and stop the other team from running the ball.” The team that can run the ball can control the outcome of the game in more ways than one. In today’s game of football there are many offensive approaches of how to win. Some of them promote themselves as “high flying” or “unstoppable.” To a degree that is true. But, what if their opponents keep the ball out of the hands of their offense? By utilizing a steady and productive ground game, a team can limit offensive opportunities and, in turn, frustrate an opponent. Also, a team with a solid ground game can wear down opponents both physically and mentally and, in turn, hold a lead particularly late in the game.
Along those same lines, another key to success is preventing opponents from running the ball successfully. When the defense can limit or take away the opponent’s running game, the opponent’s game plan changes significantly. In those cases, the offense may be forced to attempt plays they normally don’t run. So, just as import as being able to run the ball is stopping the opponent’s running game.
The offensive and defensive lines are the key players in the ground game in making it effective on offense and stopping it on defense. We often hear the phrase “being the most physical.” This is a true and the team that is more physical in most cases wins the game. But, to be more specific and, concerning the running game, it is the team that controls the line of scrimmage. In terms of all out strength, both teams can be equal in “physical strength.” The team that controls the line of scrimmage is the team that moves their opponents out of way and creates lanes for their running backs. And on the defensive side, the team that doesn’t allow themselves to be moved out of the way controls what play choices an opponent has on offense.
Looking back at these two past great years of Mountaineer football, it is easy to spot the wins and see they have been able to run the football and limit their opponent’s from running the ball. In their losses, they haven’t either ran the ball effectively, stopped the opponent’s running, or controlled the line of scrimmage. In the past two years, they have achieved those goals 27 of 31 times. I think everyone agrees there is a great percentage of time where they have achieved those goals.
As the 2017 approaches, I am confident that among the goals and points of emphasis from the Mountaineer coaching staff will be winning the turnover battle, running the ball, limiting the running game of opponents and controlling the line of scrimmage. This summer as we have reflected on all the Mountaineer teams of the past, every one of them has been different. The team this year will be different than this past year and the years preceded it. Can the 2017 team be a good team? Sure. How good? As this season unfolds, we will find out.
I believe it is going to be exciting and the 2017 Mountaineers are already looking forward to seeing fans in the stands cheering them on to many great victories this fall.
Chris Pitman gains his views from nearly four decades of involvement with Mitchell High School Athletics.