Woodland head football coach Tony Plott is in an unfamiliar position just three weeks into the start of the season. He’s having to do something that hasn’t happened much during the two decades the Wildcats have played the sport: temper expectations.
Of course, Plott would much rather the mood around the school and the program be a positive one. But with success, which so far includes a scrimmage rout and a hard-fought, comeback win in the season opener, comes a chance for complacency.
That’s why Plott has attempted to bring his players back down to earth ahead of Friday’s home opener against East Hall.
“They’re obviously excited,” he said. “Come Friday at 7:30, you’ll see their excitement. Right now, everybody is patting them on the back, of course, telling them how good of a job they’re doing. So we’re having to guard against that a little bit and trying to keep the kids focused. ... We’re trying to keep things in perspective.”
There’s obviously a ton of football left to be played, but it’s hard to downplay the trajectory of the team at this point. A lot more will be known about how competitive the Wildcats can be moving forward after Friday’s game against the Vikings (0-2).
By and large, though, Plott and Co. have spent the time between their 31-22 win over Southeast Whitfield and East Hall working to improve fundamentals rather than game planning for one non-region opponent.
“We’ve focused on ourselves,” Plott said. “We’re trying to get healthy, first of all. We have some kids banged up.
“And we just tried to get better. You know the old saying you see the most improvement between Game 1 and Game 2. We’re just trying to make sure to follow through with that.”
It might have gotten a little buried in that quote, but the injuries are the most concerning thing for Woodland. Last year, an injury to Justice Carter hampered the rushing attack, and in Week 1, Demarcus Williams, Carter’s backfield mate, went down hurt.
While Plott wouldn’t discuss the health of any individual players, it doesn’t appear as though any of the banged up Wildcats will be out a substantial amount of time, if at all.
“There’s still some guys that are questionable,” Plott said. “I won’t mention any names, but there are still a couple of guys who we aren’t sure if they will be able to go or not.”
Even if Woodland isn’t at full strength, on paper, the team would seem to have enough talent on both sides of the ball to handle an East Hall squad that has been outscored 105-12 in two games this year.
Regardless, Plott is preparing his team to face a spread offense, featuring a bruising running back in Cambren Harrison and a few possible quarterbacks in Kyle Baugh and Clete Cooper.
“They’re really big, they’re really athletic,” Plott said. “They’ve gone through a couple of quarterbacks due to injuries and stuff. They have a running back [Harrison] who’s about 270 pounds. He’s a big boy but he can move, and he also plays on the defensive line.
“They’ve got athletes. When they get off the bus, they’re going to look the part.”
Defensively, Woodland will be facing a team with a base 3-3 stack, which is essentially what Cass runs on defense. The toughest aspect of the scheme for the Wildcats to deal with will likely be the pressure the Vikings will bring.
“They tend to be very aggressive,” Plott said. “They like to blitz a lot. We have to work on picking that up and knowing our rules from the offensive line. ... We just need to be able to pick up the different stunts and blitzes that they’ll bring against us.”
While East Hall could potentially give Woodland fits in a few different areas, the purpose of the game, as is the case with virtually all non-region contests, is to improve heading into the region portion of the season.
It’s the one caveat that comes with every result at this point in the year. Yes, the Class 5A Wildcats beat the Class 4A Raiders on Aug. 17, and they’l have a good chance to beat the Class 3A Vikings. But will that carry over into Region 7-AAAAA action?
Plott, for one, thinks his team definitely needs to make strides on both sides of the ball before beginning region play against Cass next week.
“I think we just have to be more disciplined with what we do on the defensive side of the ball,” Plott said of the defense’s performance against Southeast Whitfield. “We did some things with the defensive line — I don’t know if they just didn’t quite grasp what we were trying to do or got caught up in the moment and tried to do too much — but we’ve got to get them to just try to play within the defense and do what we ask them to do.”
On the other side …
“I think there was some good and there was some bad,” Plott said of the offense’s performance against Southeast Whitfield. “The offensive line played really well at times. Justice Carter had a huge game. He had 221 yards rushing. Titus [Jones] came in and we were able to run some other types of plays. It really opened up our offense at the time.
“We’re not nearly where we need to be on the offensive side of the ball, but we’re going to continue to get better. Hopefully in the upcoming weeks, we will be where we think we should be.”
Being able to keep the visiting Vikings from conquering Wildcat Stadium would be a good start. Although, failing to do so would certainly sap those growing expectations.