New Walker Valley wrangler Drew Akins likes what he has seen from his Mustangs so far and feels confident as he prepares for his first season on the north end of the county. (Banner Photo: Richard Roberts)
First-year Walker Valley football coach Drew Akins knows what it is going to take to put a win on the board for the Mustangs in 2019, and feels his team is on its way to turning around an 0-10 2018 by means of hard work and dedication during summer workouts.
"We've got some kids who want to play — they want to win," he said. "The biggest thing I tell people is, whenever we ask them to do something, and they know it's to help them win a ballgame, they are willing to do it.
"There is never any bite back. They are willing to do whatever it takes because they are so hungry for that win. But, on top of being hungry, they have talent. We've got six or seven receivers that can really play ball," the first-time head coach assessed.
The Mustangs have spent much of the summer so far in the weight room getting stronger and spending time on the practice field learning new defensive and offensive schemes.
The Monday through Thursday regimen consists of a split group of the older Mustangs lifting while the younger Herd is conditioning. Then the scenario flips with the younger group headed into the weight room, where a pair of certified trainers are waiting to greet them.
"They are making sure our movements are right. It's a big thing for the freshmen to come in and learn the movements. You can get hurt so easily doing power planes and squats. We separate the freshmen to make sure we do the lifts correctly, with very light weight," Akins explained.
"On Tuesdays and Thursdays they come in and do the same thing, lift, run, switch and then we go onto the field for about an hour. We do a 30-minute offensive practice and a 30-minute defensive practice with helmets only. And we throw a little special teams work in also."
When the Mustangs are on the practice field, Akins says they are working to fine tune the new offensive and defensive looks that were installed during spring camp.
"We are just trying to make sure we get our schemes down. We've got a new scheme going in offensively and defensively," he said. "We did a lot in the spring to kind of get us ready for that. Now we are working on the finer details of those things."
Although official competition for position play hasn't yet begun, Akins feels he has a pretty good idea as to who will be where on the offensive side of the ball, particularly when it comes to signal calling. Not so much on defense, however. But, he expects that to become much clearer with his new defensive coordinator now in place.
"I probably have three quarterbacks right now that can really spin it. (Bradley Central transfer) Tucker Pope has kind of taken the lead in the quarterback race," Akins acknowledged.
"The other quarterback is Griffin Broome and he is going to move to kind of an all-purpose guy. He is going to play quarterback, running back and receiver. You never know where he is gong to line up. We are going to find different ways to get him the ball. As athletic as he is, he will find space a lot."
"Our offensive line is progressing, the biggest thing right now is we've got to find a defense. We just hired a defensive coordinator. We talked with him for a long time and we knew his scheme, so we got it in during the spring," said Akins of former Sequatchie County DC Taylor Harvey.
"He is a really, really talented coach. He is young, 28-years old and has a lot of energy. He is going to make this defense go and he is going to place our kids."
Akins is not worried about talent, and feels he has all the necessary pieces to finish the puzzle, it's just a matter of shaping the pieces to fit the correct slots.
"We've got all these little pieces. To say there is no talent here is not the case. We've got a lot of kids who can play ball," he said.
"We're still moving the pieces, especially with just getting our defensive coordinator in. We are going to let him evaluate a lot of our talent."
The Mustang coach said he and his staff moved some of the puzzle pieces to slots they felt would be good fits, but will let Harvey have the final say in completing the challenge.
"We put them where we thought they'd would fit, but he knows his defense way better than I know his defense. Just like I know our offense better than a lot of our other coaches know our offense," he said.
"Offensively we have the pieces pretty much where we want them to go. There may be one or two guys I want to see at running back as well as receiver. But, other than the offensive, we're pretty set.
"Now we are just looking at, defensively, is this guy an inside backer or outside backer? Is this guy a defensive end or a nose guard?"
In some cases, the staff knows who will be where and it is just a matter of who will be where when. Depth is a problem every coach would like to contend with and the linebacker positions are pretty deep for Akins and company.
"We know their position, just not exactly where they fit within the defensive scheme. The good thing is we probably have six linebackers who can play. We have two overhangs, two or three or four kids who can also play," he said.
"We've got six defensive linemen who can play. We've got a lot of options at those places which builds depth but, it builds competition within first of all, for those who don't win the starting job."
The transition to a new coach and new schemes has been a relatively easy one for Akins who has also been the new assistant coach on campus at Ooltewah and most recently offensive coordinator at Red Bank. He is pleased with the way things have transpired so far and credits the determination of the Mustangs and their desire to win football games.
"There is always that transition period where you are feeling them out and they are feeling you out because you are new. They have made it as easy as I could have possibly dreamed.
"I think part of it is their willingness to do what you ask them to do. They want to win so bad. Kids just don't like losing. No kid likes to go 0-10. No coach like doing that," Akins stated.
"I think the desire to win has made the transition a lot easier. They just soak in everything you say to them, and they are just great kids. You are dealing with kids with 3.5s (grade point average). I've got more kids with 4.0 than we have with sub 2.0. They are intelligent kids. When you tell them to do something, they know exactly how to do it."
Akins admitted one of the key factors that led to his being hired to lead the Mustangs who had just one win in their last 20 games is his determination to build relationships with his athletes.
"We are going to build really great relationships where kids trust us. Where they know we care about them and they know we love them."
The new Mustang coach credits his father, who is head coach at Ringgold (Ga.) High School, about teaching him what it takes to build relationships with the athletes under his guidance.
"He's won 250 games in his career . As I watched him coach, he has an innate ability to get his players to play as hard as they possibly can and just leave it all out on the field.
"He said they are never going to play like that for you until they know you love and care about them. That you would do anything for them. In turn they will do anything for you," said Akins.
Akins and his staff have challenged the Mustangs to reach certain standards over the summer workouts, not only on the field or the weight room, but whatever the task might be.
"We have set a standard. We have set a bar. We want you to reach this bar. It's not necessarily on a football field. That bar is cleaning up your locker, having your lockers locked, making sure when your group is sweeping, you have swept. We are just setting the standard of taking pride in what you do," he stated.
So far, according to Akins, the pride has translated into energy in the weight room and in conditioning as well as learning on the field.
"These things obviously tie in, but having pride in what we do, in everything we do (has translated). That's really what we are looking for," he said.
Heading into the TSSAA dead period from June 23-July 6, Akins says he has seen much improvement in strength, an area he feels has been lacking in the past.
"From January until now we have probably gained 12 to 15,000 pounds as a team in our three lifts. When I got here, I gave Nate (Mathis) our weight training program and told him to do what he thinks is best," said Akins.
"He put together a program and we are in our fifth cycle on it. It has produced a lot of results. We want to continue to set our standards, continue to get stronger for these last two weeks."
Akins said he wants his Mustangs to take a break during the dead period to rest and recuperate before returning to fall camp.
"Take a breath because that's your last chance to recharge. When we get back in July is 7-on-7s and fund raisers, then we hit camp. We don't have a ton of time after dead period," the coach stated.
"We've done a good job and I give credit to my assistant coaches. They have set a standard in here and they have held them to that standard. Our kids understand what that standard is and they understand the punishment if they don't reach it."
Week one of summer workouts found Akins and company dealing with some 20-25 Mustangs on family vacations. Since then, they have all returned and have been hard at it.
"We've had 80 to 85 kids per day, which is a good number for a 5A program with 1,500 (students) in school. Having 80-85 is the number. We had 20-25 incoming freshmen which is a good number. That's the number you shoot at, to have 20-25 freshmen every year. That way you are looking a 80-100 kids in your program every year," said Akins.
"We are going to find some success this year, but it can't be one of those success, bad year, success, bad year things," he continued.
"I believe the way you sustain it (the program) is by bringing in 20-25 kids into the program every year. We met both of those goals and we've got a good group of freshmen we really think can produce in the future for us."
Walker Valley will look to junior Noah Duprey (88) for big plays this fall under new coach Drew Akins' high-flying offense. (Banner File Photo: Robert Cannon)
Griffin Broome (2) gives new Walker Valley head coach Drew Akins several options of how to use him in the Mustang offense this fall. (Banner File Photo: Robert Cannon)