It’s not often that a coach is hoping for his team to endure more misfortune or hardship, but Denton’s Kevin Atkinson wants to see how his team responds both mentally and physically when faced with unplanned circumstances.
After ending up on the wrong end of some decisive plays and penalties in their 30-23 season-opening loss to Dallas Bishop Lynch last Friday, this week’s matchup against Carrollton R.L. Turner should provide the Broncos an ample stage to correct some bad habits.
First on the list of corrections for the Broncos in preparation for the Lions was an increased focus on special teams play. It was the ill-timed fumble against Bishop Lynch on an extra-point try with the game tied at 23 that changed the genetics of the game and gave the Friars enough of a boost in the fourth quarter to hold off Denton.
The critical fumble may have been costly in the first game, but long-term, it’s situations like that Atkinson wants his team battle tested against.
“I think we’ve all made a commitment to chase our vision, but we haven’t matured enough when adversity strikes and when things get tight,” Atkinson said. “Sometimes you revert back to your roots.”
When explaining this tendency to relapse and how to avoid it after the game, Atkinson used the metaphor of horses in a burning stable.
“If you go into the burning barn and let the horses out into the corral and then you go to try to fight the fire, the horses will trample you to get back to that stable because that’s where their comfort zone is,” Atkinson said. “They have a lot of fear and they want to go back to where they feel comfortable, even though it will kill them.”
Of course, Atkinson doesn’t want his team intentionally putting itself in such a precarious position. In order to avoid degradation, the remedy, Atkinson said, starts with the basics of the game.
“Our challenge to them is pre-think things, and you conquer that through repetition,” Atkinson said. “A lot of times you don’t know things are going to arise until they happen. That’s why you play a nondistrict schedule, and it’s a big learning curve for some of our kids.”
Last season’s game with Turner saw quarterback Cy Ward throw for five touchdowns and 351 yards in the Broncos’ 35-6 romp. But this year’s Lions have a new coach and haven’t played more than a scrimmage, so they are also in the developmental stages.
Despite the last year’s lopsided score, R.L. Turner has Denton’s attention for several reasons.
“They are a lot more disciplined, and they don’t make near as many mistakes,” Atkinson said. “But they haven’t played a game yet, so it’s a little bit difficult for us to see how their special teams are, and I’m sure they are thinking the same thing. I’m sure it’s going to be a very competitive game. I think we are all mature enough to know that it’s a new year.”
Although Ward threw for five touchdowns, he also threw two interceptions, something he didn’t do against Bishop Lynch to start the season. While the Broncos didn’t turn the ball over last Friday, against R.L. Turner they are going to need to conjure a few game-changing plays and end up on the positive side of the turnover battle if they are going to compete for a playoff spot in District 5-4A.
“We had two or three times where the ball hit us right in the hands,” Atkinson said. “That’s what good teams do and we’ve got to start learning to make those plays.”
While the Broncos did rush for 141 yards against the Lions last season, they struggled to find consistency at the running back position down the stretch of their schedule. But against Bishop Lynch, the tandem of senior Deavonte Doucet and sophomore Xavier Brown gave Atkinson and the team some confidence in this year’s ground game.
“I’m just hoping they build on it,” Atkinson said. “We saw some really good things out of both those running backs. Doucet averaged 8 yards a carry and Scott averaged 5 1/2 a carry. It’s a big credit to our offensive line. They are becoming such a tight unit, and our running backs did a nice job of making the appropriate reads and cuts.”
This week’s practice sessions were also a lesson on correcting the issue of penalties, something that allowed the Friars to extend drives.
Atkinson definitely doesn’t want more penalties, but they are just an example of the mental adversity he hopes his team can overcome.
“We talked to our kids about it and we really addressed the foolish penalties,” Atkinson said. “That’s how the game goes. That’s part of being mentally tough, too. You have to be physically tough, but mentally tough also.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.