Colonels look to improve after 2-8 season

By WALT MOODY | The Winchester Star 
Aug 2, 2018
WINCHESTER — Coach Ryan Morgan wanted to turn up the heat on his James Wood football team during the opening week of practice.
Mother Nature has not been cooperating.
Rain, clouds and mild temperatures are not what the second-year head coach wants to see as the Colonels look to rebound from a 2-8 record last fall.
“I’d kind of like it to be hotter to be honest with you,” Morgan said after the second of two practices on Thursday afternoon. “We’ve only had one hot day out of the four days we’ve practiced. It’s rained the other three days. The heat helps them mentally. It’s not fun for them at the time, necessarily, but it helps them get a little bit mentally stronger and tougher.
“It is supposed to get hotter next week,” he added. “I hope it does because in our opening game [Aug. 24] we’re going to be wearing blue jerseys at home against Sherando. We’re going to have to be able to handle the heat and kind of understand how far we can push our bodies.”
The Colonels are certainly looking to push themselves in the tough Northwestern District. The league features a returning Class 4 semifinalist (Sherando) and three other teams (Millbrook, Liberty and Kettle Run) who qualified for the postseason.
“We’re very determined,” running back/safety William Crowder said. “These few days have helped us bond more. … We’re going be very determined to win this season and have a better season.”
Certainly this fall has gotten off to a better start for Morgan. Last season, his preparation time was short after being hired to replace Mark McHale in the summer.
“It helps me just as far as planning because I’ve had a whole year to plan,” Morgan said of his second season. “I wasn’t hired until June last year and it was kind of a scramble to get things together. We missed spring ball during the coaching search. The kids hadn’t been lifting as much. The last two months I had to try to implement our system, some changes and some stuff like that. It’s just hard to make that many changes.”
He feels much more comfortable this fall, having had his players working in the weight room and with his coaching staff. Over the summer, nearly 60 players (in Grades 9-12) attended each workout.
“I get frustrated still, but I look back at last year and I feel like we’ve made some big strides since 2017,” he said. “... There’s some things that need to be cleaned up, but that’s what every team is going through. That’s what fall practice is for.”
Morgan said his varsity squad has a little more than 40 players, about the same number the Colonels started with last fall.
There’s a sense of optimism among his players that they can improve off of consecutive 2-8 campaigns.
“The team is looking good,” said Crowder, who ran three kickoffs back for touchdowns last season. “We’re getting into shape and getting our new plays. We’re trying to keep energy and have a better season. The coaches are helping us, keeping us into shape and pushing us every day. Even though they are yelling at us, all of our teammates are in the same pain. We are all feeling the same and we can’t give up on each other.”
“It’s baby steps for every team,” defensive end/left guard Luke Roy added. “There’s new plays and you’ve got to get used to it. We’re learning. We’re getting a little more physical day-by-day. Hopefully, we’ll get a little more physical with full pads.”
Getting physical is what Morgan wants to see from his team. That’s why he wants the heat up and to see his team pushed before Game 1. He’s focusing much of the energy on the offensive line, the backbone on any strong rushing team.
“The biggest thing that we have to accomplish is to make sure that we are tough — mentally tough and physically tough,” Morgan said. “We have a lot of seniors and some decent size on the offensive line. Those guys have to be physical and lead the team.
“Last year, some of those guys were kind of young and inexperienced and also inexperienced in the offense. We had some struggles up front in knowing what to do. Those guys really need to lead us this year. We have some talent in the backfield, but if we don’t have those guys blocking for them up front that need to do that, then it won’t be as advantageous as it could. We have some tough guys, but we need more of them to step up.”
Morgan and his staff have reviewed last season and have brought in a few new wrinkles to the playbook. He said his players also have reviewed their performances and have an understanding of where some games got away.
“They have got a lot of determination because they saw last year,” Morgan said. “We don’t feel like last year should have gone the way that it was. We knew that there were going to be some struggles but there were probably a couple of games in there that we should have won if we had done the correct things.
“I tell them all of the time they get what they deserve. They earned it. They made the mistakes last year that cost them some games. It wasn’t nobody’s fault but their own. I think they see those mistakes and say, ‘Man, that could have been the difference between 2-8 and 4-6 or 5-5 and we’d have a little bit more momentum going into the season.’ We have some tough young kids and some good leaders who do the right things. Their mental state is headed into the right direction.”
The Colonels know forging a winning record and making it back to the postseason for the first time since 2014 won’t be easy.
“It will take hard work and dedication,” Roy said. “We’re not the biggest team, but I think we have the most heart.”
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