With bodies hurtling through space at break-neck speeds and giant men careening off one another for 48 minutes of action, football is tough enough to play on offense or defense.
But when players are asked to play on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, the rigors of the game go up exponentially, making it all the more difficult to play at a high and intense level of play throughout a game.
West Holmes will be facing that challenge this season with a number of their players strapping on their helmets on both sides of the action. That will present challenges for the new multi-headed coaching staff as they try to maintain that delicate balance between keeping their star players on the field and giving them a breather.
With a talented and experienced core of 13 seniors leading the way for the Knights, co-head coach Ron Hay said the hope is that while the multi-faceted coaching staff takes care of leading the team from the sideline, the seniors will play a key role in taking what the coaching staff has presented to them in terms of philosophy and hard work and transition it to the field. In a sense they too will be coaches.
“We’ve got a good core of seniors, and I think what people need to look for out of these guys is their leadership and execution out on the field,” Hay said. “We’ve got to play hard every play, and that is what we expect our seniors to exemplify out there.”
What makes that task even tougher is that many of the starters will end up playing on both sides of the ball, both offensively and defensively.
Hay went as far as to say that it is imperative that the coaching staff listen to what the seniors are thinking and what they want to get out of the season.
Senior Trenton Bridenthal will be lining up under center and running the wing-T offense, a running-based offense that will get a bit of a different look as the team motions into an I-formation.
While the wing-T is nothing new for the Knights, Hay said they will mix it up through the air quite a bit more than they did under Maltarich.
“If something is not working, you have to be able to pass the ball effectively,” Hay said. The wing-T is not the easiest offense to throw out of, but you can do it, and the kids are excited about that opportunity.”
Lining up in the backfield will be fellow senior Connor Roach, who was manning the QB position last year. The coaching staff sat down with Bridenthal and Roach, discussed their strengths and felt that the switch would benefit the team.
“Their body make-ups fit those rolls much better,” Hay said. “Trenton is smaller and quicker while Connor has a much more powerful build that is built for the punishment of being a halfback. So far they love it.”
Joining them will be Garrett Ervin, Cale Ogi and Grady Hay. The depth and athleticism of that group will be incredibly important since all of them will also play key roles on the defensive side of the ball.
“I don’t think people realize just how hard it is to play both ways,” said Hay, referring to playing almost every snap of a football game.
In order to free up some pressure on Bridenthal, who will have to make some snap decisions on the fly at quarterback, the coaches have moved him from free safety, where he would be calling plays on defense, to a cornerback slot, where he will join lightning quick Brayden Chaney in trying to shut down opposing wide receivers. Michael Taylor, another guy with track sprinter speed, will return from a nasty injury to take over the free safety role. He will be responsible for manipulating the defense to where it needs to be.
Jed Alexander will man the middle linebacker spot while Ogi and Hay will play the weak side and strong side linebacker positions.
The chore of manning both the offensive and defensive lines will also be put into the hands of a number of players who are being asked to go on both sides of the ball.
Hay said the coaching staff has gone to great lengths to get the players in shape and ready for the challenge of playing two-way football. He added that a key to keeping the Knights on top will be the coaching staff and the players having the ability to recognize when they are tired and need a breather.
“It is incredibly hard for kids to maintain a high level of effort throughout a game when you’re playing both ways,” Hay said, “But I think we have a lot of kids in the skill positions on offense and defense that we can get our guys a breather to keep them as sharp as possible. We have enough nice, athletic kids that it gives us some flexibility. That is one thing that led us to move to the 3-5 defensive set because we have kids that can get out in space and make tackles one-on-one.”
Defensively, the Knights will also move to a 3-5-3 base, meaning three down linemen and five linebackers. He said that change was precipitated to allow the Knights’ defense to better cover the edges.
“It is more effective against the spread offense, and it makes things simpler so we don’t have to have a whole bunch of different coverage packages to implement,” Hay said.
“There is a lot of pride involved in playing both ways, and it is a challenge these guys want to accept and take head on,” Hay said. “It is especially important in the early going when the weather is hot and muggy. That takes so much out of a kid when they are playing the entire game. It is not an easy thing to do, but we have a bunch of athletic guys who are capable and willing to go out there every Friday night and give it their best effort to make us as good as we can be.”
One thing that happens when players are on the field a lot and they become tired is it increases the propensity for turnovers. Last season the Knights turned the ball over at an alarming rate, and that is something that the coaching staff will watch closely this season.
“We have been pretty good with turnovers over the past number of years, but last year we had a ton of them, and that hurt us a great deal,” Hay said. “One of the quickest ways we can turn ourselves around from last year and improve is cutting way down on turnovers. Part of that is going to be our ability to keep guys fresh. We absolutely have to eliminate turnovers. We know we will have some. Every team does, but we can’t afford to turn it over four times a game like we did last year.”