Walker Valley wide receiver Reid Gibson (30) tries to shake off a tackle by a Warriors' defender in White County. The Mustangs take on Cumberland County at home Friday night. (Banner Photo: Lynnae Roberts)
Learning how to win is not an easy process, particularly for a team that has struggled in recent years. Teaching a team how to win is also a process Walker Valley head coach Drew Akins and staff are doing their best to figure out.
“I've got to continue to remind myself, the coaches need to continue to remind themselves and our kids have to continue to remind themselves that they are learning how to win. They are learning how to handle situations," Akins said of his Mustangs.
The Mustangs held a third-quarter lead over White County last week, but trailed 32-29 after a Warriors comeback. Still, the Mustangs were in a position to win with just over two minutes left to play. Akins wants to see his team learn how to power through such situations and turn the tables.
"The more times we are in that situation the more times we are in the game with an opportunity to win, the more comfortable we are going to be," he said. "The more comfortable we are the more we are going to believe in our scheme and do. It all ties together. We've just got to remember we are learning how to win. We are learning how to be program that expects to win.”
Akins compared the Mustangs to the difference between a jungle tiger and a zoo tiger. A tiger in the jungle learns by failing time and time again how to finally succeed. When the objective is finally achieved, the feeling of success is made sweeter because of the learning process.
On the other side, a zoo tiger has everything handed to it and there is no need to learn to succeed. It doesn't have to work for success and therefore has little understanding of the feeling of learning to hunt successfully.
“I think our kids are experiencing what it's like to be a jungle tiger. You have to fight for everything you get. Eventually, if you keep fighting, you are going to get the reward of it,” explained Akins.
Friday, the Mustangs host the 0-5 Cumberland County Jets, and Akins hopes the hunt this time around will be a successful one.
Once again Walker Valley will face up against an experienced quarterback, senior Trevor Parsons, who can make things happen on the football field.
“They are a good football team. They are very similar to White County. They have a quarterback who can really play. He's an athletic kid,” Akins stated.
The Jets will certainly be looking for a first win by playing a hard-nosed brand of football that is nothing fancy.
"They do a good job of putting their kids in simple schemes, doing what they do best and if they are being successful they will fight to win a ballgame," Akins related.
The coach Acknowledged the Mustangs are playing well in spots, but have yet to play enough consistent football to pick up a second win. Walker Valley held White County to around 96 yards of total offense in the first half, but could not contain in the second half giving up scores on several drives of eight plays or more while the Warriors racked racked up more than 200 yards.
“We're playing well enough, we're not playing consistent enough. We've got to put four quarters together,” said the coach. “Right now our third quarter is killing us. It's something we're doing as a coaching staff to not come out of halftime strong."
The Mustangs had a solid start against the Warriors with an interception and a pair of scores, but could not hold the line against White County after halftime.
Again this week a major key to a successful hunt will be grounding the Jets on third down. Late scores at the end of long Warriors' drives kept the Mustangs backed up for the majority of the second half.
“If you are giving them 10- to 12-play drives that means you are getting them to third down, but not getting them stopped. We've got to start winning third down percentage. We've got to start getting off the field in those critical situations,” Akins emphasized. “We are not doing a good job of getting them off the field in critical spots."
The Mustangs know as they go through the difficult and often frustrating process of learning how to win, getting that victory will not come easy. But there is a win out there for the taking and that is what Akins and staff are looking for.
“I don't think we can expect an easy win, ever,” said Akins. “We've just got to go take a win. What that means is being consistent in what we are doing. Our talent is there. We've shown that. Our consistency is not. It's the same defensively. Holding them for 96 yards in the first half and them ending with 320 yards in total offense is in consistency. Our talent is there, our consistency is not. When things get hard we've got to lean into the scheme instead of pulling away and doing our own thing,” Akins stated.
“It's our job as coaches to force them to be disciplined enough to do those things. I think our coaching staff has done a really good job of bouncing back. Our players have done a great job of bouncing back. They understand they are learning how to win and they still have a lot of things in front of them. If they keep pressing in they will see a lot of success.”
Mustangs quarterback Tyler Pope (10) rolls out against White County last week in Sparta. Walker Valley will looking for win No. 2 Friday inside "The Corral" against Cumberland County. (Banner Photo: Richard Roberts)