The first game of the year is an unusual mixture of excitement and panic for coaches.
Excitement - that the season is finally starting after a layoff since November and long days practicing in the broiling Texas sun.
Panic - to make everything is done to get the team ready to step on the field.
"We are good about being prepared, so we will be in good shape. You are always anxious about the first game," said Greg Owens, Sulphur Springs head football coach.
Sulphur Springs hosts 5A Robert E. Lee of Tyler at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Gerald Prim Stadium. The action will be the football opener for both squads.
"It's the first game and you are worried about the plays and everything. We want to be ready for every situation," Owens said. "But that is what preseason is for, to get ready for those things."
Owens said each football year is broken into three seasons - pre-season (non-district games), district and post-season or the playoffs. The plan is to keep getting better each week so you take lessons learned in non-district and do well in district in preparation of the ultimate challenge, the postseason. All this starts with the game against Lee.
Owens said, "We feel like we are on point to getting there. The reality is you are always nervous about the first game. It's a rush and you plan with a bunch of new faces on Friday night. You never know how a team will react and play until you get them into the heat and fire. Some of them with be wide-eyed about being on the field at Prim for their first varsity game. We want to win every game and you can't do that unless you win the first one."
"The non-district games don't matter to us as far as the playoff goes. But you want to see where your team is and competitive teams want to win," Owens said. "You learn by playing, getting kids on video so we can make changes and adjustments. We understand there's a bigger picture down the road we are preparing for this year."
Lee comes into the game a six-point underdog. The Wildcats managed a 35-34 OT win a year at Rose Stadium in Tyler.
"Anytime you rise up and play a team with bigger numbers than you do it's a challenge," Owens said of the playing the 5A school. "Lee has some tradition. Rusty Harden (Sulphur Springs ISD employee) brought by a state championship T-shirt we hung up this week. It's there, I haven't said anything it to the kids."
Owens said, "Lee is a good program. Last year they came down late and tied the game up. They tried for the win and Coach Darrell Piske went for two and we stopped them on the one. The game was over and we won it. It was exciting for our kids and program. You never know what you will get when you line up against a 5A program. I am proud of how our kids responded. Coach Piske told me this year, if he gets the same chance to tie or win. He will go for a tie. Beating Lee (35-34 in overtime) in the first game kind of kicked off our year well."
Owens again this the year, the Wildcats and Red Raiders are a good match-up.
"The teams are alike, we just have to line up and see what this year brings," Owens said. "When I look at Lee, I see their size, they are just naturally big. They have good speed as well. It's hard to prepare for teams you don’t play year in and year out. They play spring ball, so they've only had one scrimmage. We only get one video to really look at these guys. Half their team is gone, we can't give you a set line up. Defensively, a lot of guys are back. We really don't know that much about them. We are preparing and going off last year. We are evaluating the position."
Owens turned the Lee offense and discussed how they have talented players who pose different problems for the Wildcat defense.
"They have one quarterback who's a runner, he's pretty fast," Owens said. "They have another quarterback who is a good passer. We don't know which one will play, they both could. You put your game plans in and then made adjustments according. They had a good looking running game with good runners coming down hill at you. They have physical, tough players. It will be a challenge for us, we have to step up and be good tacklers. We can't afford go into a lull like we did in the Royse City scrimmage."
Owens described the Lee offense as "a little bit of everything." The Red Raiders run the spread, at times they are in the pistol.
"They are truly multiple," Owens said. "They get in the spread, but I think their core belief is still to run it. They will give us some looks with an H-back and tight end. It's a spread and all of the above. It's coach Piske's second year, I really don't have a feel about his philosophy is on offense and defense since we have only played his team once."
When the Wildcats have the ball, the present problems for Lee in the form of Willy Ivery at running back/receiver and new quarterback Larry Pryor.
Owens said, "The Lee defense linemen who could be the quickest we will face all year. They run to the ball, they get after it. That 5A district they are is tough and they are conditioning for that, with that speed and intensity. They play hard and gets after it. They don't do anything earth-shattering as far as sets and alignments. They will have some four-man fronts and some three-man front. They have good linebackers and a quick secondary. They will come at us, they will mix it up. They have kids who fly around and make plays. I know coach Piske has been preaching to them about how we beat them last year. So we will get their "A" game this year."
Owens said, "We have a new season and a new quarterback. The first real game time snaps for Pryor will be this Friday. That's a concern, calling him down. Willy is the same way, he can get over-excited. We have to get everyone into a game flow. It will take a series or two for both sides to calm down and figure it out. It's just football. The pace will be a lot faster for most of the younger players."
The coach said he will also get to work with players going both ways. Ross Cody, Cain Cody and John McLarry on the line will see action for the offense and defense. Ivery and Pryor will play offense and defense. Ivery and Pryor will be in on special defensive situations.
"We have tried to simulate that in practice," Owens said. "Coaches have to do a good job of manage those guys, their reps and energy levels. We have to judge it, the guys flipping back and forth."
The Wildcats will continue their pace of playing a quick tempo game on both sides of the ball.
"The only thing I am concerned with is execution," Owens said. "We hammer in about details. We are very detailed about where to put or hands and taking the first step. We can't afford to beat ourselves. We don't want to go too fast. It really will be dictate by the quarterback. He has to get the play in and read the defense. As comfortable as he feels and the offensive line feels, that is what we will do. The other skills guys are fine, we have enough to rotate in and keep fresh. When we get in a good rhythm and are playing well, it is hard to stop us."
"On the defensive side of the ball we have tackle better and be physical up front," Owens said. "We kind of let Royse City run it down our throat. We have to step up in the middle. We saw things to correct on the video. We can't get caught on our heels, we have to respond and react."
Owens said that as usual turnovers will play a big part in the outcome of the game.
"Our defense has been doing a good job on that," Owens said. "We have to come up with turnovers. That's a key for us. It might be hard for us to stand toe-to-toe with everybody, so we have to credit turnovers. Turnovers are the name of the game."
The Wildcats are excited about opening up the 2013 season at home and big crowd is expected.
"It's Labor Day weekend, and the first game," Owens said. "It's a home game and everything is set up for a good start. It's neat to host the first game. Lots of people are involved, it's a fun time for the community."
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