Walker Valley defensive lineman Mikey Humphries (41) brings down Red Bank running back Sincere Thomas (1) during the Mustangs' jamboree appearance. The Mustangs open the 2019 season Friday on the road against Karns. (Banner Photo: Richard Roberts)
Preseason is finished. No more camps, scrimmages, 7-on-7s or jamborees. The time has come to strap on the pads and helmets for real and go head-to-head when it really counts.
The end of fall camp for Walker Valley simply means the Mustangs are headed into the first game of what first-year head coach Drew Akins has described as 10 one-game seasons beginning Friday on the road against Knoxville Karns.
Akins and staff have also been working to prepare the Mustangs mentally as they search for their first win in 10 games and just their second of the last 20.
“It got real this week — our kids ramped up the intensity this week. Mentally and physically we challenged them to take the next step. They felt it," Akins said. "I think we’re ready to go. We’ve got one more physical day and one mental day to prepare. We’ve got to use these things wisely, but I think they are ready to play somebody in a different color jersey.
"I think they are ready to compete and I think they are ready to win a ballgame," Akins said of his team. "That’s the biggest thing: They’ve got to make sure they are ready to win a ballgame. I’m not saying we will, but when they are put in a situation to win they’ve got to be mentally ready to win. The times you aren’t mentally ready you will start making mistakes.
"We’ve got to understand, when we are in a position to win a ballgame we’ve just got to calm down and do what we are coached to do and the win will take care of itself.”
Finding that win won’t be easy for the Mustangs, who will be going up against a pair of solid Karns receivers in Tre Harper and Trey Hawkins. Karns will looking to senior quarterback Logan Hayden to get the ball into their capable hands.
“They’ve got two great athletes," Akins said. "They have receivers and a quarterback that are dynamic athletes. They are both good ball players. If we get them in the open field we are going to have trouble with them. It’s going to take tackling those guys; we’ve got to be able to get those guys on the ground, make them snap it again and make them snap it again.
“Their offensive line plays with a really good pad level so we need to make sure as a defensive line and linebackers things fit well and we don’t get driven back," he added. "Their offensive line does a pretty good job of staying back and driving.”
Karns will not be the only team with a solid quarterback and receivers, however. In preseason play, Mustangs quarterback Tucker Pope was 47 of 68 for 726 yards with 11 touchdowns through the air, connecting with a bevy of proficient receivers.
“We had five different receivers catch those 11 touchdowns," Akins said. "When you start looking at how we can spread the ball around and how we can get different kids in a position to impact the game, we definitely have the tools offensively."
The Mustangs coach was pleased with the team’s preseason running game and is looking to improve it week by week.
“We have the pieces, both throwing and running. We have the tools and we definitely have the quarterback and receivers that can go do it,” he said. “The offensive line has to protect and we have to be able to run the ball when we ask them to run it. I think they are capable of doing that.”
The preseason saw the Mustangs run the ball some 40% while going through the air 60% of the time. Akins feels that mix will more or less continue but stressed he will play the situation and not rely on a statistics page.
“I think we will be close to that. The biggest thing with me is we are just going to count numbers. If the numbers tell us to run the ball we will. If the numbers tell us to throw we will. It’s my job as a play caller to put us in the right situations,” the coach noted. "If they are going to dictate we throw the ball, we are not scared to do that. If they are going to put five in the box then we have to be able to run the football.”
Akins stressed keeping the Beavers honest and keeping them off balance will be key. The Mustangs feel they must be able to do both of those things in order to hide any intentions.
At some point, the Mustangs will break through the mental stigma attached to the current string of losses and come home with a win. Akins has continually emphasized believing they can win is, and will continue to be, a key to future success.
“We set a bunch of team goals, but the main thing we are looking at is how to win a football game. We have to believe we can do it and we’ve got to mentally prepare ourselves that when we’re in a situation to win a football game we are prepared to do it,” said Akins. “If we do that, at some point if we do what we are coached to do and are mentally prepared we will get a win. Then we will look at the next game and do the same thing and take it one game at a time. But, we’ve got to make sure we’re mentally prepared to do that and when things get hard we do what we are coached to do. If we do what we are coached to do I feel good about where we are as a football team.
“The amount of support from everywhere has been crazy,” he continued. “I always try to thank the people who support our program. Hopefully, those people that support us, we can give them something to be proud of. That’s what we’re fighting to do. We just want to give these people who have supported us something they can be proud of.”