Art Lawler Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Coach Tim McCarty was just about to recover from his mid-week panic Thursday morning in his office at East Central.
His two-deep chart had been established. The players seem to know what they are to do when the Tigers open the season against Arkansas-Monticello at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Football is fun again, at least until panic time sits in again next week. It doesn't help that every game this season will be a conference game.
Monticello has lost three in a-row to the Tigers, but that comforts McCarty little.
The Boll Weevils, the most hated insect known to former cotton farmers — but the mascot of Monticello just the same — have upgraded. No question about it, McCarty says.
"They're a pretty good football team," he adds.
Maybe so, but there's some evidence that says the Boll Weevils will be facing one of the most overall talented Tiger teams in recent years. They'll be playing on their new, spruced up, green FieldTurf with the bright orange end zones and the hostile looking orange Tiger frozen like a proud predator in the middle of the field.
But coaches worry — as well they should. Coach Hud Jackson at Monticello, is in his third-year of a major rebuilding job at the Arkansas school.
He's trying to create a team that thrives on speed and spreads opponents' defenses from sideline to sideline.
True, the team won just one of 10 last year and didn't get a GAC (Great American Conference) victory.
But McCarty must fret. First of all, Jackson went out and recruited a pack of junior college players with unknown skills. That can sometimes turn a team around dramatically.
Jackson has 38 of those one-win players returning from a year ago, and they're not teething anymore, either.
He has 15 of his starters back. And last year's score, 31-17, wasn't exactly a blow out.
Put all of that carefully-designed stress in a blender, turn it loose and you come up with a concoction of unknown power and mischief from the Boll Weevils.
Like for instance, new quarterback Colton Morrison. If nothing else, he's 6-foot-seven, weighs about 220 pounds. His arm's not exactly a Daisy Air Rifle, either. More like a cannon, to hear McCarty talk.
Monticello will try to keep him in the pocket, and of course, the Tigers will be as uncooperative as possible in allowing any of that to happen.
Right now, McCarty's more worried about his own group of Tigers, the fifth batch he's brewed in this, his second tenure at East Central, and the first using only his ingredients.
He knows he has a large, athletic team, one with a talented young returning starter at quarterback (Spencer Bond), and an exciting new running back in Jo Jo Snell, huge, athletic linemen on both sides of the ball, great athletes in his secondary, and, of course, some inexperience caused by the graduation of some highly talented players, especially on defense.
But these are his boys, and it's go time. Pressure?
"I always feel pressure," he confesses. "But it's not any more this week than any other. I feel high pressure every Tuesday and Wednesday.
"Because we don't don't want to panic on Saturday. We want to panic on Tuesday and Wednesday."
"We don't want to be fumbling around, trying to take care of details on Saturday that should have been handled days earlier. We want to have squared all that away."
As for Monticello, McCarty says, "I always want to make sure we respect our opponent as players and coaches every game.”
McCarty is a hard coach to pin down. Sometimes he does things nobody else seems to understand.
At other times, he can state the obvious.
"Winning is hard to do. It takes 60 minutes," he says.
He obviously wasn't thinking about overtime, but he will soon enough.
He talks about all the things an offensive lineman has to do just to get ready for some zone blocking.
You know like taking that first step the right way, which is important — almost as important as the second step. He's got to remember the snap count, study the defensive man slobbering on the other side of him, stay on his feet and move his man in a positive direction.
That's one player on one play of one game in one long season.
Then come the next thousand details and another sleepless night.
Detail, he tells you, lead to execution, and execution is the name of the game.
It's also the coaching profession's most oft-used printable word.
Other McCarty-isms guaranteed to bring on insomnia:
"This play worked, but it might not work the next time even though it's executed the same way.
How much will he throw?
"Depends," says McCarty.
How much will the Tigers run?
"Depends," says McCarty.
The team that isn't a running team or a passing team but likes to do both, also likes to go no-huddle some, but not all that much.
It depends on what's happening out there.
He knows he can be vague, but he can't seem to slow down the football wheels in his head. One problems solved and another pops up, just like a bottle at a midway shooting gallery.
"There are just so many dynamics," he says.
McCarty even has to worry about music.
"We play music at every practice," he says. What kind of music.
"Every kind of music."
But why, coach?
"Because, after a while, they don't hear it."
Oh. You play music so the team won't hear it?
"We want the big crowds. Make no mistake about that. But I want them to play as if there's nobody in the stands."
Noise has to be mastered so concentration can take place.
Getting back to Monticello, McCarty says ECU fans should remember Jamal Nixon, who had 800 receiving yards for the Boll Weevils last season.
That's right, and he caught two balls for 16 yards against the Tigers. Important point — that was last year.
Speaking of last year's memories, Monticello fans will remember redshirt sophomore quarterback, Spencer Bond.
This team was his first victim after he took over the top quarterback spot.
"I love him," says McCarty, when describing his quarterback.
"He's a coaches kid," McCarty says. That means he's been going over execution at the dinner table most of his life.
"Spencer is better than last year," McCarty says. He's a better leader. He has more confidence in himself, and more confidence in his teammates."
Bond is also the CEO on the field for the Tigers. "He's a much improved manager on the field."
What does McCarty expect in the opener?
"I don't know, but it's time for us to put up a marker.”
"Something will show up," he said. "It may be something good, or not good. But this is a first game and something is going to show up."
"When we get our mark, that's when we'll know our starting point for the rest of the season. Then we can go from there."
McCarty gets to worry about new rules this season, too, especially that new "target" rule that can get a player kicked out of the game in the flash of a smack. Just ask A&M.
"Right now we are a team that likes to run and hit. We want our guys to run fast and hit hard. But it doesn't help to have speed if you don't know where to go with it.'"
The Boll Weevils have a kicker named Jamie McGee, who was 14 of 15 in field-goal accuracy last season.
They have a great safety in Anthony Hughes, who led the team in tackles last season, a tough defensive tackle in 6-2, 265-pound, Calvin Ursin and Jalen Gasmow, 6-0, 260, another down lineman.
"I want our team to play with emotion," McCarty says.
He doesn't want them to get too high, though, and go crazy and drop balls and get flags.
"They just need to cowboy up," he says.
McCarty on taunting:
"I'm old school ," he said. "I have zero interest in taunting, and the last time I checked, I'm the boss."
He says his teams typically don't do that.
What keeps him in the game.
"I love the players of the game, the challenges and the rewards. I like fighting to try to keep our values at the top of their minds."
Make no mistake, he does worry now and then.