By Will McClure
On Monday, August 1, nearly 70 young men reported to Stamford High School to begin two-a-days in preparation of the 2016 Stamford Bulldog football season. Working hard to fine-tune the basics each morning under the hot summer sun until around 10:30 am, the Bulldogs looked to get ready for their first opportunity to face another team during the first scrimmages against Clyde on August 12 and Jim Ned on August 18, all to be prepared to play Brock-Weatherford in the first game of the season on August 26. Under the leadership of SHS Athletic Director Coach Ronnie Casey, now entering his third year as head coach, along with Coaches Dean Edwards, Jason Gorman, Thomas King, Shawn Speck, Jeremy West and, new to Stamford ISD, Dalton DeGraffenreid, the Bulldogs have quite a bit of work ahead of them to prepare for the first games of the season. Even though it will be a relatively young team having lost 12 players due to graduation, the season outlook is very optimistic as the players have learned under great leadership that came before them and are more than ready to carry on the tradition that is Stamford Bulldog Athletics.
When asked how the practices have been going thus far, Coach Ronnie Casey said that the players have been doing very well, bringing in great attitudes and a great work ethic as the team worked to get back to the basics of the game. Casey stated that, although they will be facing new opponents this year, the team’s strategy really has not changed from last year, preferring to take each game one at a time while they continue to fine tune the details. When asked how the team would adapt to the loss of the 12 players that had graduated, Casey said that the players this year already know what is expected of them and what they are supposed to do, with most of them having gone through the football program from the 7th grade on, allowing them to see the same coaches and learn the same fundamentals throughout their time in Stamford. In addition, the players have been able to learn from watching their former teammates as they waited and worked to get their chance this year.
"[For example], Wesley [Gonzales] said something about this earlier. He said those guys set such a strong standard and set the bar really high," Casey said. "And not only did he get to watch Ligon West for two years, but he got to watch Bo Wimberly, Hagen Hutchinson and Hayden Nauert. These guys have run this offense and Wesley's run this offense for five years and they had great leadership ahead of them and, if nothing else, they learned how to become a leader...We did get hit hard with graduation, but we also had a tremendous amount of young talent behind them that have been sitting and waiting for their turn. What's impressed me the most this year is that those kids have stepped up and they've been taking care of business."
Casey did note that the biggest change in coaching strategies with the newer players was that they need to be coached up a bit, having them pay attention to detail and do the little things right, with the coaches over-exaggerating the small things to allow the players to become better and not take anything for granted. One other thing that has been the focus for the team even through spring workouts and summer practice is working on the team's speed. Casey said that while the team last year was extremely talented in a lot of areas and did have a lot of speed, they were not quick as a team overall. As a result, the team has been working on quickness drills to help fine tune the speed of the team to improve in that area, with the players doing a great job all summer to work in this and other areas, showing their heart, determination and passion for the game.
When asked about how the coaching staff has been able to continue to work well together, Casey said that they have all been doing a great job to get the players ready, wanting them to be successful no matter what level that they are at, whether it be at the junior high level or the varsity level with the kids seeing the same coaches each and every year. Casey said that by being able to learn from the same coach and not three or four different ones for the same position, it allows the team to continue to know what to do as they continue to gel and build chemistry throughout each season.
Casey continued by stating that the goals of the team are to continue the tradition of Bulldog football and hopefully continue to make the playoffs this year, with one other goal being that they can make a deeper run this year, stating that the success from the baseball team is still spilling over from last year, giving the football players the motivation to continue with that success.
"In 2011, we had a team like this one. It wasn't supposed to do anything and we finished third in our district. We ended up playing for a State Championship. Because of those kids, knowing the tradition and knowing those battles and fight to get a starting position, they just kept pushing and persevering and things just seemed to kind of unfold for us that year all the way to the State Championship. And then from that success, built two more trips and two more State Championships. The tradition right now is 'I want to be a Stamford Bulldog. It doesn't matter what sport it is, I want to compete because fan support is tremendous'...It's a great place to be a Stamford Bulldog," Casey said.
Coach Casey concluded the conversation by stating that the team is getting better and better every day with two-a-days as they prepare for their two scrimmages and their first game against Brock-Weatherford on the 26th. Casey said that that game will be a big challenge for the Bulldogs as they will be taking on the defending State 3A Champions, but it will allow them to see some tough competition right out of the gate and face a big challenge. However, at the end of the day the coaches want the Bulldogs to take care of themselves and protect the tradition of Stamford athletics throughout the season and prove, as Gus West once said last spring, that "tradition never graduates."