Walker Valley wide receiver Caleb Grannan pushes for yardage against Lenior City. (Banner Photo: Lynnae Roberts)
It’s been a tough go for Walker Valley on the gridiron so far this season. The Mustangs are still are looking for the first win of 2017 which so far has been harder to find than Bigfoot.
It is certainly not a lack of talent that has been the the Herd’s downfall, but more the lack of taking care of the little details that, if left unchecked and loose turn into big problems when the engine is running full bore.
Case in point: The Mustangs although 0-6 have two of the top players in the nation and certainly in the state of Tennessee on the roster.
Senior quarterback Kolten Gibson is ranked No. 2 in the state and 15th in the nation in passing behind only junior Grayson Tramel of Shelbyville Central. Gibson has thrown for 2,137 yards averaging a mind numbing 353 yards per game, three yards behind Tramel. He has thrown for 22 TDs with eight interceptions — 24 and five for Tramel. The 6’-2” strong-arm righty has completed 150 of 239 attempts (132 of 209 for Tramel).
Gibson has not only done the job for the Mustangs through the air, he is also the team’s leading rusher tucking the football 68 times while gaining 335 yards.
Senior wide receiver Zeke Westfield has equally impressive numbers. Gibson’s favorite receiver is ranked No. 1 in the state No. 7 nationally and has caught 60 passes for 1,023 yards and nine TDs. The 6’-5” Westfield averages 170.5 yards per game and 17.1 per catch.
So why are the Mustangs o-for the season so far? It’s not taking care of the little things that add up to big mistakes in critical situations according to head coach Glen Ryan.
“Jumping offsides kinds of things, on both sides of the ball. We had some procedure calls and were offsides on defense on critical, short yardage situations. Those things kill you. Those things are momentum busters,” said the coach. “Getting other teams in third-and-long and giving up the big play or blowing a coverage or not maintaining gap integrity all seem like little things but they all add up. When you look at our games it’s been one or two touchdowns, even though they’ve been crazy basketball type scores. But, the way our offense moves the ball it’s one or two touchdowns that is going to make the difference in a lot of those games.”
Ryan explained the Mustangs’ potent offense has kept the team from being involved in lopsided blowouts even though defensively the defense has given up far too many points.
“If we could get one or two more stops that could be the difference in winning a game and losing a game right now,” he said. “It is the little things and that’s what we preach and work on every single day. It’s doing your job and not trying to do somebody else’s and do it as good as you can possibly do. If everybody will take that approach and do those things then we will play a lot better as a team.”
The biggest positive for Ryan and his staff has been the upbeat attitude from the Mustangs. From the seniors to the sidelines, the spirit has been on the plus side for the most part.
“Probably the one that that has been encouraging is their spirits are still up. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. We had a really good practice yesterday. It was a very positive, upbeat practice. Right now that’s good because if we go out there with a down attitude it makes it harder,” Ryan explained.
“The guys who have been our play makers have been very good at encouraging the younger guys and keeping things positive. Kolten has been very positive with the younger guys trying to lift them up and encouraging them to work a little harder. That’s a good thing.
With four games left in the season — barring a last-minute playoffs berth — the Mustangs have begun to shift their attention a bit to the future and the development of upcoming classes. The team has by no means thrown in the towel for 2017, but Ryan said now is a fine time to see who wants to play and who will help out in the future.
“We’re giving some guys some opportunities. We’re at 0-6 right now and so we’ve made a couple more adjustments. We’ve started putting in some more younger guys. Where we had some older guys things just weren’t getting done that needed to get done,” he said. “That’s the way we will continue because if we’re going to be down and we’re going to get beat then we might as well get beat with young guys across the board. Now, the guys who have been doing their job and doing what we ask then to do are still playing. I’m not penalizing those guys.
“If we’re going to be down, we’re going to try and be down just one year and not three years in a row. We’re going to get younger guys ready to play so that next year we’re not in this situation.”
Ryan is hopeful the Mustangs still have a shot at making the playoffs with two region games left on the schedule. It’s the same for Soddy-Daisy as far as the number of region games goes and both teams are looking for the advantage that will propel their team into the playoffs.
“We’ve still got a lot to play for. Soddy-Daisy has two region games left and we have two left. It could come down to that last game to see who gets the last spot,” Ryan explained. “Even if they win one that will be one win and if we beat them it’s a tie and if we beat them we get the head-to-head tiebreaker. It’s going to come all the way down to Week 10.”
The road to Week 10 is not going to be a smooth one by any means for the Mustangs who will face Red Bank, Knoxville Catholic and McMinn County before the finale against the Trojans.
“We’ve got Red Bank this week who I’m not sure sure don’t have guys who are faster than what Cleveland has. Running Back Tahjmir Berardesco can flat out go. He’s a player,” said an impressed Ryan. “They’ve also got two good defensive ends that are tush hogs. They’ve got some other guys but those guys standout big time. They are playing good football. It’s a tough road. There’s not a gimme in there. I wish there was.”
With the attitude still in the right place and all of the pieces of the puzzle on the table, all that is left is for the Mustangs is to put the pieces together and play fundamental football in order to get their first win. Ryan and his Herd view Friday’s trip to Red Bank as a winnable game if everything falls into place and mistakes are kept to a minimum.
“It’s a winnable ballgame. But, we can’t go and shoot ourselves in the feet with mistakes and turnovers. Friday night was the first time we haven’t turned the ball over. Up until then we’ve turned the ball over more this year than we have probably the past four years. Again, it’s taking care of the little things. It’s getting on the loose ball when it’s on the ground. It’s taking care of the ball when we have it. It’s not getting procedure calls or jumping offside. It’s doing your assignment and not trying to do somebody else’s,” he said. “All those things add up and make the difference between winning and losing football games.”