THE HOPE – The expectations for this season started before last season even ended. Controlling those expectations may prove a more difficult task than turning the program around from no one expecting anything, to a point where everyone expects everything. I know I am not the only one that loves the current state of the Bulldogs’ football program. I like things the way they are right now. I don’t want to go back to the pre-Reed days. There is no turning back now. Let’s move this train on down these 5A tracks. There is gold at the end of the line. There is no reason to feel it doesn’t belong to us.
Sometimes as fans, we get caught up in the end result, and base all perceptions of the program on whether or not a trophy comes home. As I learned my first day on the job as an assistant coach at Frederick in 2012, a successful football season is not measured by the way it ends. It can’t be. It just isn’t fair to anyone, especially the kids.
In the first meeting I had with the rest of the coaching staff in 2012 as a coach at Frederick, I learned a quick lesson on managing expectations. I had watched the Bombers on film from the year before and saw an offense having an easy time scoring, and a stout defense with size and speed. I wanted to impress my head coach and the others on the staff by letting them know I had a clear understanding of what I was coming into. I didn’t want them to think I was oblivious to what this team was.
That was a team that was returning 20 of 22 starters from the year before. We had players who were bigger, better and faster than the ones that were graduating. Therefore I felt all elements were in place to make a run at the trophy. With confidence I said, “So, if I’m seeing this right, … We are trying to win a title here?” I just wanted them to know that I was aware of the hard work that had been put in on this by everyone in the program, and that I was aware of the stakes. The room was an awkward shuffle for a few seconds and Coach Hugh Farmer said, “No, we are trying to get better every day. That’s really all we can control, and to focus on our one-game schedule. To see it as an all or nothing season just isn’t fair to anyone. If seasons are measured by only championships, then only one team has a good season. That isn’t right.”
I said, “One-game schedule?” Farmer said, “Yep, the next game is the only game on our schedule.”
It’s hard to make a prediction for this team. It’s not because I’m not confident in my view of things. It’s because the coach in me doesn’t want me to get ahead of myself and look beyond the Vernon game. However, my job is to help to sell newspapers. It’s much easier to sell newspapers if the sports brings good local color. If I’m telling you that I see weaknesses and expect some losses, I am not only a liar, I am a bad employee. Therefore, since the radio stations haven’t come calling me wanting me to provide some Bulldog hype, I have this paper space to do so.
In that light, here comes some more hype – I think Altus has a legitimate shot to win every game on their schedule – A LEGITIMATE SHOT. The coaches on the staff, top to bottom, know their roles, and they are very good at what they do. The head coach instills an air of confidence within his staff and his team. There is no silly showboating. There is no thug mentality. Only positivity surrounds the program. The quarterback is experienced and highly skilled. Now, add in that Benway’s passes look like a completions every time they are released. Last year, it didn’t look like that. His passing wasn’t bad by any means. It just looked like a kid who had to pass because of a game situation, but didn’t really want to. Now Benway looks like a veteran shotgun arm in the pro-set, instead of an option run only threat. When the number ones had possession for the first time at the Weatherford scrimmage, Benway threw 5 times in the first 7 plays. The offensive minds should have a field day with this. Altus very well may have the best back in the state. They may also have the best backfield in the state. Benway, Birdow, French, Harris and Jones make up this backfield. I dare you to find any better collection of backs than that.
The wide-outs are somewhat untested because we ran almost all the time. But they do know how to block and Benway’s accuracy will make it easy to grab receptions. The line, believe it or not, is already better now than the line that finished the year last season. McCrae Stephens is an excellent addition. He and Jackson Herring are huge and mobile. Do I even need to hype this defense? I don’t see why, they do just fine without any hype from me. Then aain why not? Benway is an absolute force at safety. He had seven interceptions a year ago. Hunter Cleveland and Austin Baldwin lived in the opponents’ backfield all night/all season long. Ybarra, Torres, Feller, Ridenour, and Abuan are studs as well.
Coach Vargas has proven himself to be not a only an adept game planner, but his ability to make half-time adjustments is supreme. That Ardmore display launched coach Vargas into the “Halftime Adjustments Hall of Fame” if you want my opinion. Ardmore speedster, Orin Walker, burned the Bulldogs twice in the first half and his total yards for one half was 183. This was obviously a focus of halftime and the second half proved Vargas is not locked down to one style. Orin Walker never found the end zone again and added a negative 3 yards to his first half total of 183. Now, add in Taven Birdow to the mix. I still claim Taven is best back be the best running back in the state of Oklahoma. He now goes in at linebacker, and is not only trying to win, he is trying to get to the next level, and feels showing an ability to be multi-dimensional can help land him the big school offers he deserves. Taven may be a better linebacker than running back. Time will tell us. If I leave the special teams out, you might think the Bulldogs have a weakness. Not so, Gabe Barton may be the best kicker in the state. He thinks it’s between himself and a kid from Piedmont. This isn’t a Piedmont paper. So, you heard it here first. Gabe Barton is the best kicker in the state. Go by practice sometime and be entertained by Gabe’s 60+ yards of kicking field goals accurately and clearing the crossbar with ease. Gabe has deep, high onside kicks down to an art.
Like I said, I think the Bulldogs have a chance to defeat every opponent they face on their schedule. I just can’t say the words you are wanting me to say. Too many things can happen. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t say it. It’s our time at the front of the line people. So, enjoy it. Soak it up. There is probably some room on the bandwagon left, but if you aren’t on board yet, I can’t imagine why not.
SUPPORT THE 12TH MAN CLUB. They take care of everything that the staff shouldn’t have to. Sandwiches provided to the team during that extended rain delay at Del City came from 12th Man Club. It seriously looked like the difference maker between the two teams in the second half. The heaters on sideline at Guthrie came from 12th Man Club. The list goes on and on. Pre-game tailgating is theirs as well. Catch my drift? SUPPORT THE 12TH MAN CLUB.
GO AHEAD BULLDOGS !! GO ON – GET THAT WHICH YOU HAVE WORKED FOR.
THE HICCUP – The only thing that concerns me is this year’s schedule doesn’t set up well for the Bulldogs. Open on the road at rival Vernon. Then, the week two opponent, Anadarko, was a three-time defending state champion in class 4A when the Bulldogs went to Anadarko for their week two match-up last year. Once the dust settled, the Bulldogs brought back a 42-7 loss. It was set up last year to make another deep run into the playoffs. However, injuries by key personnel ended that run. This is a very dangerous opponent for a home opener. Especially since it’s homecoming. Elk City, Chickasha, Ardmore and defending state champion, Lawton Mac, are all on the road. Duncan, Del City, and Anadarko are home games inside “The Rock.” The Bulldog fans do everything in their power to make the boys feel at home when they are away from “The Rock.” However, it doesn’t change the fact that road games in football are a logistical nightmare for most teams. Transportation for a large group of players, coaches and managers and trainers to and from the site is only the surface getting scratched. All the pads have to be accounted for, as well as several sets of extra gear because…. you never know. If something breaks and you don’t have another to use, you are away from home, so you better have it with you. Helmets alone make a huge luggage for the trip. The training gear is a little more than some white athletic tape and some Band-aids. Multiple tables for ankles being taped, or for massaging a mean muscle strain. The amount of tape and pre-wrap that a football team goes through in one week is mind blowing. Now times that amount by 15 weeks or more, and its clear that the logistics of a football team to travel to play a game is like no other sport.
For example, in baseball, if you aren’t a catcher and you wore your uniform to the bus, as long as you had your mit, you were good to finish a double-header and get back home. The hydration of a team the size of Altus is more than a little water jug. Please respect the kids on the sidelines holding the water. They are a valued member of the team if they hear a timeout and are sprinting out to the players for a water break. You waterboys and watergirls remember the towel you are carrying is as important to the player as the water. They are sweating like Patrick Ewing did in a clutch moment trying to make a free throw late in the game. To make a deep run into playoffs means 14-17 weeks straight not including pre-season. It’s a long grind and work, work, work and somewhere these coaches have to teach and grade papers and do lesson plans. These young Bulldog athletes somehow have to find the time to be a student athlete. It isn’t all fight songs and standing ovations.
SPEAKING OF WATER: THE BULLDOGS WOULD LIKE SOMEONE TO STEP UP AND DONATE BOTTLED WATER FOR ROAD GAMES. MAKE IT SO. My hope is that before week one, the team is overwhelmed by so much bottled water that they have to turn it away. They won’t, because there are several road games and seriously, the players have to stay hydrated or they cramp. Don’t let a Bulldog’s leg cramp be on your head. Donate some water and have peace of mind.
Reach Brad Gilbert@482-1221 ext. 2076