Cleveland Blue Raider Robert Flowers goes up to make a catch near the end zone during a 7-on-7 scrimmage against Walker Valley Thursday, at Walker Valley. (Banner Photo: Richard Roberts)
As the football season quickly approaches, every practice and every scrimmage becomes more and more important, weather or not.
Thursday at Walker Valley, the Mustangs, Cleveland Blue Raiders, Ringgold Tigers and Sweetwater Wildcats waited beyond the scheduled start time to get in a 7-on-7 scrimmage, finally taking the field after a rain and lightning delay of more than an hour.
It was the last 7-on-7 for the Mustangs, who open the season Aug. 23 at Knox Karns. The Mustangs will be looking for their first win after a 2018 season where the team went 0-10.
First-year head coach Drew Akins said for the Herd the 7-on-7 scrimmages are about developing a mentality of how to compete ,more than learning offensive schemes.
"I think right now it's about us competing, it's about learning how to compete. You get some scheme stuff, but there is no threat of a run so it makes it difficult because it's not real football, but we can learn how compete and that's the biggest thing we are trying to learn. If things go bad, keep competing. If things go good, keep competing. That's what we are taking from it," said Akins.
"What we're working on right now is just playing fast. We're learning so much with a new offensive scheme and a new defensive scheme that we are just really trying to teach our kids to play as fast as they can and we will fix it on film later."
Cleveland coach Marty Wheeler, also in his first year at a new program, is taking a different approach. The Raiders are working more on the defensive side of the ball, looking for competitive excitement, while also working on timing and throws offensively.
"We like to do 7-on-7 from a defensive standpoint. It gives our guys the opportunity to go against somebody else. Anytime you go against somebody else you get to see the guys compete and be excited about competing," he said.
"It's also an opportunity for us to throw and work on throwing and catching a little. It's important to get timing and things down as far as routes and concepts. It's not real football, so we don't put a lot of stock into the outcome. We are really focused on our guys and how they take coaching. Are they improving from snap to snap? And each time we come out and do these types of things are we better than the last time?
Thursday was the fourth 7-on-7 for the Raiders, who will travel to Red Bank Tuesday for a final non-contact scrimmage.
After what Akins said was a poor performance during Tuesday's scrimmage, the coach was pleased with the way the Mustangs responded Thursday after video studies of the lackluster outing.
"Last Tuesday we came out and played really poorly. We didn't play technique-wise and didn't do much of anything we have been coaching them," said the Mustang coach. "Since then we got into the film and that has helped us so much. We have progressed so much over the last two (scrimmages). It is so exciting to see them progressing.
Wheeler said Cleveland has used the scrimmages as an opportunity to get the younger Raiders on the field during the low stress scuffles and see where mistakes can be corrected.
"We're doing some things good. We're trying to get all of our guys some reps. We've got some younger guys we are getting in. They are going to make mistakes. We're going to make mistakes right now. That's what these are for, to make mistakes so we can identify them and correct them," he said.
"I like the way we are trying to compete and I like our attitude. We're getting what we want out of these things I think."
Akins said the Mustangs are anxious to get the season started for real, but there is still much to be done before the first kickoff.
"They are ready to get at it for real. They are chomping at the bit, but we still have long way to go," he said.
"I'm so happy with our progress, but we still have to go so much further to be ready to play a real football game. Our mentality is there, our willingness to do it is there, our belief is starting to come around as is our confidence. But, we still have so long to go until we are ready for game one. If we keep progressing we will be ready when we get there."
Cleveland will open the season against defending state 5A champion Knox Central on Aug. 23.
Walker Valley Mustang Daniel Denton catches a pass in the end zone against Cleveland during a 7-on-7 scrimmage Thursday, at Walker Valley. (Banner Photo: Richard Roberts)