Cats Back to Work
August 22, 2011By Monty Long of Valdosta High School
August 18, 2011
VALDOSTA — VALDOSTA — The Valdosta Wildcats got back to work this week, following last Friday’s scrimmage game loss.
The Wildcats don’t have a game this week, so they have time to focus on themselves, try to get better and fix any mistakes they made last Friday.
“We’re trying to become a better and better football team,” Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said. “We need that time to develop some fundamentals. (We’re doing) a whole lot of one-on-one work. Those reps are making us better, and we’re seeing improvement in a lot of places. I think we’re heading in a good direction.”
“We want to learn to play with a higher tempo, especially up front offensively. (We’re) emphasizing some tackling and base fundamentals defensively,” he added. “I certainly think we’ll get better in those areas.”
The Wildcats will host Brooks County in their season opener on Aug. 26.
Valdosta’s head coach believes his team will be a lot better the next time they play under the Friday night lights.
“I think this football team will make huge strides (between the scrimmage and the Brooks County game),” he said. “I think we’ve made good strides in the last two games. With seven more practices to go, I think we’ll make big strides, and you’ll see a different football team when we take the field next Friday.”
In its preseason scrimmage last Friday, Valdosta lost 24-7 to Ware County at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. In the three varsity quarters, Valdosta had minus-22 yards rushing, thanks in large part to five quarterback sacks. Ware outgained VHS 312-232.
Overall, Gillespie seemed pleased with his defense, but said they still have some work to do. The Gators only had one long scoring drive, but VHS allowed an 80-yard touchdown run to Ware’s William Golden and a 48-yard touchdown catch to Xavier Tobler.
“Defensively, we kept the run game kind of hemmed up, other than that one long run. We just didn’t tackle well,” Gillespie said. “You’re disappointed with the long run by (Golden), just because you’ve got him hemmed up and it turned into a little scrum right there, and you’ve got too many people standing around waiting for somebody else to make a tackle. ... We’ve got to rally to the ball and get a lot of hats around it, and get the kid on the ground. (On the touchdown pass) we had an all-out blitz and they had a guy that didn’t match it right, and they caught us. Ware just had a perfect play for it, they did a great job executing the play. They’ve got great players. Those two plays, although they’re disappointing, are very fixable. The one drive that they had is the one that we can’t have. We’ve got to be able to get ourselves off the field.”
Center Jamel Hunter was held out of the scrimmage after experiencing some heat-related problems in practice. That forced Valdosta to move left tackle Willie Barrett to center for the scrimmage.
“With our center being out, that really put a kink in everything,” Gillespie said. “You’re having to arrange people to play different (positions), and it’s just hard.”
Hunter was back at practice on Monday.
Defensive tackle Willie McClain limped off the field in the first quarter, and did not return. Gillespie thinks McClain will be ready to play next week.
With McClain injured, Terry Allen, one of the team’s biggest players, has moved back to defensive tackle. Allen played defensive tackle last year, but was working with the offensive line before McClain’s injury.
“We were thin over there (even before McClain’s injury). We decided that’s what’s best for our football team right now,” Gillespie said.
Alex Stephenson has been named Valdosta’s starting quarterback. Stephenson took most of the snaps in the scrimmage, and completed 14 of 26 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown.
“Alex is our starter,” Gillespie said. “I thought he played well (against Ware). He’s going to continue to grow and develop as a quarterback. He’s always been arm talented, and now the game’s starting to slow down for him. He’s starting to figure some things out, and as that happens for him, he’s just going to get better and better.”
Mac Loudermilk, Stephenson’s backup, sprained his ankle in the scrimmage, but has practiced this week.
Gillespie was pleased with the way wide receiver Tyran Watkins played against Ware. Watkins caught five passes for 88 yards.
“I thought Tyran Watkins stepped up and made some nice plays for us,” Valdosta’s coach said. “He showed a lot of courage catching the ball in traffic. We need that playmaker out on the edge. (Jerald Davis also) made a couple of big plays out there.”
Gillespie also said Davis did a good job returning punts.