By TONY TAGLAVORE, Journal Sports
Late in the third quarter of last year’s Class 4A state semifinal football game against Westgate, Northwood trailed 28-7.
It would be a stretch to say Falcons head coach Austin Brown wasn’t concerned. But he did have hope.
“We looked faster,” Brown remembered. “We looked more explosive than Westgate. We ended up proving that in the second half.”
Northwood outscored its opponent 25-6, and scored a touchdown as time expired. A failed two-point conversion meant a 34-32 loss. However, Brown saw the payoff of his offseason program.
“We came back against the eventual state championship team and almost beat them — a team that, talent-wise, was way better than us,” Brown said.
The 2022 season is some six months away, but Northwood and other local high schools are in their offseason programs. That means lifting weights and doing conditioning drills.
“We’re going through a little bit of pain, but mostly growth,” said Captain Shreve junior receiver Cam Randolph. “We’ve got to get better with our strength and our mental toughness this year. Those were big problems last year, and we’re trying to fix that as best we can this offseason.”
Shreve’s eighth-year head coach, Bryant Sepulvado, is all about building strength — as long as that strength is put to good use.
“We’re really focusing on the core lifts, plus some explosive Olympic lifts,” Sepulvado said. “I’ve really learned over the years to hone in on flexibility. A lot of times, you will see kids who can squat the whole weight room, but they can’t play football because they’re not real flexible, and it’s not useable strength.”
At Parkway High School, third-year head coach Coy Brotherton’s team has finished the first of four offseason “quarters.” The first quarter was all about improving strength, and will be followed by strength and conditioning, film study, and spring ball.
This is also a time to work on intangibles that can make a difference come September.
“I think that’s very important to get the kids to understand the end result, the big picture,” Brotherton said. “We do a lot of talking. We set goals. That’s what you’re trying to do when you’re in the weight room. You’re trying to get better and stronger, but you’re also setting personal and individual goals for the kids. We’re making them compete every day. All that is going to translate onto the football field in the fall.”
Northwood’s Brown has a different view than some head coaches.
“It’s more of a scientific approach,” Brown said of his offseason program. “Everything we do starts with ‘What do the kids need to be successful on the football field?’ We (coaching staff) rarely say, ‘I wish that kid was stronger.’ It’s always, ‘I wish that kid was more explosive,’ or ‘I wish that kid could run better’ or ‘move better.’ It didn’t matter if it’s the quarterback, the left guard, or the nose tackle. You always say ‘Man, if that kid could just move better, we would be a better team.’”
And part of being a “better team” means doing what Brown calls “Feeding the Cat.”
“Training everybody on your team — the left guard and the DB (defensive back) — like they’re a cheetah, sprinting first with explosive movements,” he explained.
Yes, the games don’t start until September. But in reality, the season has already begun.
Photo by TONY TAGLAVORE