Sweetwater's passing game experiences growing pains

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Sweetwater's passing game experiences growing pains

Post  CerealKiller on Fri Sep 04, 2009 5:39 pm

Sweetwater's passing game experiences growing pains

By Evan Ren
Thursday, September 3, 2009

SWEETWATER — For more than a decade, Sweetwater football has been synonymous with two things: running the football and winning.

Under former coach Kent Jackson, who departed for Frisco Heritage in January, the Mustangs posted eight straight playoff appearances while using an endangered offensive species — the wishbone. As a result, most of the players in Sweetwater were raised in option football, with little or no development in a modern passing game.

That gives new coach Craig Slaughter, a proponent of the I-formation, a two-fold problem.

On the one hand, he wants to move Sweetwater’s option-oriented players to a more balanced attack. On the other hand, he is taking over a team which is accustomed to success, and perhaps in minds of some, is trying to fix something which isn’t broken.

Slaughters debut was a disappointment, with the Mustangs gaining 158 total yards (90 in the air) with five turnovers against Burkburnett in a 14-0 loss.

The Mustangs, who were a combined 5-of-10 through the air with one interception, will try again for their first win under Slaughter’s direction Friday at Seminole, a 7-6 winner over 2A Idalou.

“When I was getting interviewed for this job, I was asked about my offensive philosphy and the things I like to do,” Slaughter said. “So they knew what they were hiring and that they weren’t getting the wishbone.

“I’m still a grind-it-out type guy, for the most part, and I’m a physical football coach. But we think that by being a little more balanced, it will help us in some of those games where (Sweetwater) has struggled to score.”

In other words, air-Slaughter is not something Sweetwater fans can anticipate happening.

The new-look Mustangs are based in a largely straight-head power running team, with some play-action and sprint-out passes to keep defenses honest.

Just how long it will take Sweetwater to make the full adjustment, however, is problematical.

“Sometimes after practice, I’m thinking I’ll never throw the ball again,” said Slaughter with a laugh. “But most of the time the kids’ natural athletic ability takes hold and they’ve picked it up faster than I could have hoped.

“There’s definitely some days when I come in that I have to remind myself that it’s a process which will take some time.”

Selling the Mustangs on the idea, however, took no time at all.

Immediately upon meeting the team, Slaughter announced the wishbone was officially dead at SHS — an idea which was welcomed by those players who had always wanted to throw the football more.

Jackson’s obvious success — a 73-26 record, including a 13-2 mark in 2005 — took a backseat to something the players considered more fun.

Jackson never posted a losing season and never failed to reach the playoffs at Sweetwater. But it was common for the Mustangs to throw fewer than five times per game.

“From the moment coach Slaughter stepped into the fieldhouse you could see a difference,” senior offensive lineman Cole Rhoades said. “You could see everyone’s eyes sparking up again ... I think it refreshed us a little bit and gave us something new to get excited about.”

It has also changed the Mustangs’ entire practice routine.

Drilled for years on option reads and blocking techniques, Sweetwater is now focusing more on passing, catching and pass blocking than it has in nearly a decade.

“It does pose a challenge,” said running backs coach Patrick Villa, who also served as an assistant under Jackson. “We’ve gone from where we worked constantly on the mid-line and the option to where we’re more of a sprint-out type of team.

“Our kids are smart enough to where they’ll get it down, but it will take a little time to adjust.”

There is some room for optimism.

Aside from the effort against Burkburnett, the Mustangs were a combined 8-of-14 for 150 yards through the air in a scrimmage vs. Midland Greenwood — just the sort of aerial production Slaughter wants to compliment his power running game.

“I’m betting on myself, I’m betting on the coaches who came with me, and I’m betting on the kids in this program,” Slaughter said. “It’s a big-time program, I believe in my abilities and I believe in the people I’m with.”


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