The Pioneer football team has suffered from COVID-19 decimating its roster. The team is also suffering from an expectation hangover. The goals the team had set have been modified by the pandemic and injuries.
The cure for the expectation hangover is a four-quarter effort from the team Friday night against Shelbyville. The improvement for the Pioneers must come from within the team, and the entire coaching staff knows what is needed to move forward.
The cure is something coaches across America struggle to create and find. It is something each player must contribute. What is the antidote, the remedy to damage done by COVID-19 and the team’s expectation hangover? EFFORT. The coaches are searching for players who will give their best effort on every play.
Players have been absent because of COVID, which caused coaches to shuffle players around. Now, the coaches are shuffling players around because they are looking for EFFORT. It is that simple – Warren County needs more effort from several players on the Pioneer football team.
Whatever homecoming means to individuals in Warren County is one thing, but this Friday night is a game in which the coaching staff is looking for effort from each player who steps on the field. The score really doesn’t matter if the team doesn’t give effort from top to bottom. And if the team gives effort, the result really doesn’t matter. The old Grantland Rice quote is true, “It is not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”
SHELBYVILLE CENTRAL OVERVIEW
COVID-19 is something Shelbyville head coach Josh Puckett is familiar with on a very personal level. His son, senior linebacker Cayden Puckett, had COVID-19 and could not participate in athletic activities for six months.
The Puckett family is still dealing with medical bills from their son’s illness. Fortunately for Puckett and the Shelbyville team, his son is playing this season, after injuring his big toe earlier in the season.
Head coach Josh Puckett grew up in West Tennessee and won a state championship at Lake County in the TSSAA 1A state final in 2019. Last year, Puckett took over the Shelbyville Central Eagles football program for the 2020 season. Puckett was the head coach at Lake County for seven years prior to coming to Shelbyville.
Puckett’s philosophy is to score a lot of points and to feature a strong running back. This season has been frustrating for Shelbyville, which was preseason favorites to win the region.
Shelbyville (2-5) has lost its five games to teams who collectively have only lost four games. The teams they lost to are Tullahoma and Riverdale, who are undefeated, Marshall County has lost two games, and both Lebanon and Hendersonville have lost one game each.
Coach Puckett is frustrated by his team’s inability to score points. Puckett said, “Not that it really matters, but when we won the state at Lake County, we had the second-highest scoring offense in the state. Last year at Shelbyville, we scored a lot of points. We had four senior linemen on the team last year, and that has made a difference. We also need a running back that can just flat out go, which I think Warren County needs as well.”
Senior quarterback Cade Cunningham, No. 8, is a major playmaker for Shelbyville’s offense. Cunningham has been a strong quarterback for Shelbyville for the past four years.
The two running backs who are featured in the Eagles’ running attack are senior Laquan Young, No. 4, and sophomore Ray’duan Crenshaw, No. 21. Both running backs are stout, 200-pounders. Shelbyville operates out of a spread offense that features a lot of running plays.
On defense, the Eagles are in a 3-4 alignment with three down linemen. This is a defense the Pioneers have seen often this season. Coach Puckett considers his defense to be the strength of their team.
Puckett said, “Cameron Grogan (senior, No. 2) is really good for us. Other guys who are strong for us on defense are Jadyn Harper at inside linebacker (senior, No. 1), and Robert Ross-Mallory (senior, No. 15). My son, Cayden is at linebacker (senior, No. 12), and Jarah Brown, No. 10 is a big player for us.”
Coach Puckett added one more thing, “This is without a doubt the most frustrating season I have coached, bar none.”
Injuries and one player who was removed from the team before the season began have led to Puckett’s frustration. Two areas where injuries have hit the Eagles the most are wide receiver and cornerback on defense.
There will be some new faces in the Pioneer rotation as the coaching staff seeks to see effort. The main area where there will be some changes are the offensive and defensive lines. Some new faces fans can expect to see in the lineup are junior Andrew Miller at linebacker and sophomore Shayd Johnson on the line.
Someone new who will be rotating in on the line is junior Darius Rippy. Sophomore Alex van Vuuren is projected to see more time on offense at various positions other than quarterback. The changes reflect the coaches’ search for players who are showing effort in practice and games.
Head Pioneer football coach Matt Turner said, “Shelbyville will be big, athletic, strong, and beautiful when they get off the bus. A typical Shelbyville team. Their record doesn’t indicate what type of team they are.”
Concerning the Pioneer football team, Turner said, “I can lose with you, or I can lose without you. I am not going to lose with a lack of effort. There are some kids who are going to get an opportunity to play. Some players may have more potential, but they are not giving effort. I am willing to take a loss to put kids out there who will give effort.”
Effort is a subject coaches have had with players across the board. Players are being challenged to be leaders verbally and physically. The major issue for the Pioneer football team is not play-calling or knowing assignments. The major issue is the effort put forth by individuals in practice and in games.
There are several players who have been playing with effort and are reaching their potential. Football is an 11-man sport, and the Pioneer coaching staff is putting players in certain positions whom the coaches believe are going to give effort. It is that simple for the Pioneers right now. The coaches are looking for EFFORT.