In their first fall practice of the season and their third under coach Kevin Atkinson, the Denton Broncos are buying into the core football principles and acclimating to the team’s standards much quicker than in seasons past.
There’s a collective confidence and understanding about the journey in front of them and Atkinson said he doesn’t need to be as good of a salesman as he was in his first two years at Denton.
“It’s evidence that they’re buying what we’re selling,” Atkinson said. “That’s the whole key right? It’s to have a message and product and to go sell it. Our kids are locked in. This is the Bronco vision. We have to live it every day and I really feel like we’re doing that.”
“Every kid knows our vision, our core values and standards,” Atkinson said. “The first year, we were figuring out what we needed. The second year, we figured out what we needed, but it was kind of like a church. They kind of live those core values and standards, but it’s more than that. It’s about applying it to your daily life all the time. It all starts with being selfless and helping everyone else get what they want.”
There was a good deal of change in his first two seasons at the helm, but with plenty of leadership returning from last season, Atkinson said there is a notable difference in confidence that has been built on consistent communication from coaches to players.
“The one thing that I’ll say about our philosophy here is we don’t change,” Atkinson said. “Kids know what our expectations are and they aren’t changing. There’s more of a bond of trust in the air. When I first got here, we didn’t do it that way. This year, everybody is all in. That’s making a difference.
“It’s a great compliment to our coaches. They’ve been working really hard and taking it personally. They have been able to bring the kids together. Now there are a lot of details and it’s about understanding how all of those come together.”
The Broncos have already been hit by the injury bug, with blows along the offensive line and in the wide receiving corps. They have lost lineman Rowdy Clark for the season with a knee injury and junior wide receiver Emerson Espinoza for the season as well.
Atkinson said he embraces the testing of the team’s mental fortitude so early on in the season. Players preparing for their moment to shine or taking mental reps as a backup are going to be integral for this season’s Broncos. Atkinson has implored his team not to be reactionary and prepare for every situation.
“That’s one thing that we really sell to our kids that offseason and spring training is a time to audition for your role in our production,” Atkinson said. “You might be the understudy, you might be the lead and you might be the alternate. You have to make that really important to you because you never know when you have to answer the bell. It’s going to be interesting to see how things shake out. We have a lot of places that are empty right now that we are going to have to do a pretty dang good job to get our kids ready.”
As the team finished up its practice with some strength and conditioning workouts, instead of counting out numbers for each bear crawl done, Atkinson has given his team a more tangible and inspiring way to count.
Instead, the players shouted out their District 5-5A schedule in order.
“Chisholm Trail, Boswell, Brewer, Rider, Azle, Saginaw, Old High,” they chanted in unison with enthusiasm.
With the Broncos’ expectations clearly defined and goals squarely in front of them, Atkinson said he feels like now he can start to look forward and apply more detailed lessons of the game plan. To him, on the first day of practice, everyone is thinking about the same thing: how to make the playoffs.
“On August 4 for the teams that didn’t have spring practice and August 11, we’re all playoff teams,” Atkinson said. “We all have aspirations of playing in December and practicing on Thanksgiving. Everybody, no matter where they are, it’s what they’re thinking about.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.