2019 Mustang Seniors
First-year Walker Valley football coach Drew Akins has a vision for his new team.
That vision is to return the Mustangs to a confident, coachable, football team that wants to be coached and shows up to compete every Friday night. Akins said that vision of success begins with a team that plays with passion for 48 minutes and his job is to see to it he does everything in his power to ensure success for his players.
The Mustangs, who have recorded just one win in their last 21 games, open the season on the road against Karns Friday at 7:30 p.m. They have come to camp in 2019 hungry to get back to a winning program according to Akins. The climb to success will not be easy, but he said the team is up to the challange and he likes what he has seen so far.
The Mustangs opened the new campaign with a camp week consisting of a grueling five hour schedule new to the Walker Valley program. The afternoon began with an hour-long meeting followed by an hour-long lift session followed by a quick dinner and another 20-minute meeting. The day capped off with a two-hour practice - all designed to build the team physically and mentally to the point Friday night will be easier than practice sessions.
"We're trying to put them through the fire," said Aikens. "We've always said in the programs I've been around that practice time should be way harder than Friday night is. This is preparing us for what a Friday night should feel like."
The Mustangs have also been busy learning new offensive and defensive schemes while getting to know some new coaches brought in by Akins.
Three new faces on the offensive side, including Akins, and two on the defensive side will teach the Walker Valley football team their blue print for success. Along with Aikens, Tyler Pope, who coached at Bradley Central, will be the quarterbacks coach for the Mustangs, Durrel Woods (Ooltewah) will lead the receivers, Derrick Vestal (McMinn County and McMinn Central) will coach defensive backs. Tyler Harvey (Sequatchie County) will install the Mustangs' Stacks Defense.
"There is something to be said for a staff that has great chemistry. It's one of the most enjoyable staffs (I've worked with). They enjoy being around each other. They want to be here. They work their tails off. Every single guy on our staff pulls his weight and it's fun to see." said the head coach.
The Mustangs' skipper is confident in transfer quarterback Tucker Pope and said the receiving squad is one that can make some noise offensively.
"Offensively I think we are going to be pretty talented throwing the football. Tucker Pope is just a really talented kid. He's got a lot of arm talent. He understands football and he's a football player. He's a football player who can really throw it. It's fun to have that. I haven't had many of those through my career. He can put the ball in spots that not everybody can put it in." Akins said.
"We've got receivers in Charlie Swafford, Reid Gibson, Daniel Denton and Brody Swafford. We've got some young receivers that can play as well. Griffin Broome is going to be an athlete for us. We've got some weapons of skill that I think we can throw to."
He is also pleased with the progress and physicality of his "violent" offensive line and said the Mustangs will play to what the opponents defense is offering.
"If we throw the ball around and they start stacking the secondary, we've got to be able to run against a weakend box." the coach said. "I think we are going to have talent to do both."
Defensive Coordinator Harvey has been busy installing the Stacks Defense he used at Sequatchie County. The system is designed to be used with the Cover 3 Defense wich gives extra run support.
Being in a Cover 3 shell gives us extra run support," Aikins offered. "We've got some talent in Lane Miller and Sky Craig and Spence Jackson. We also have a couple of young guys who went through the reinstall and know what's going on. We've got some secondary guys who can cover those deep thirds."
As far as depth, the Mustangs will be deeper than they have been in recent years, although not at every position. The plan is to have a Mustang or two who can step in any needed receiver position.
"That's a really valuable kid because if anybody goes down we can plug that kid in anywhere," Akins said. "Defensively, we are building seven to eight linebackers that can play. We've probably got six defensive linemen that can play. We're looking at probably four to five corners and safeties. There is depth everywhere. On the offensive line we've probably got seven to eight kids who can be Friday night kids before the end of camp."
With the current Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletics Association breakdown of regions and districts guaranteeing the Mustangs a playoff spot win or lose. Akins said it is simply not enough just to be in the postseason.
"We've already made the playoffs and that's great, but what is our real goal? Why don't we make a goal to host a playoff game instead of just make the playoffs? That's where our mind is, especially with our schedule and looking at our depth," he said. "I think we've got a chance to go inot our schedule and see some success if we do what we are asked to do."
"I think the biggest thing right now we are hoping for is defining success. We want to make sure we play out of love for each other. We're not worried about wins and losses. I believe if we do what we are coached to do and we can run the ball and stop the run and we can block and we can tackle, play out of love for each other: If you do those things it will turn into wins. The wins and losses will take care of themselves if you do what you are coached to do. Our focus is to make sure we are doing what we have to do to make ourselves as great as we can be".