Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

SPORTS >>Red Devils aren't listening to negativity

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

Jacksonville and Sylvan Hills meet up this Friday in Sherwood, and both teams feel their backs are against the wall.
Sylvan Hills, who celebrates its homecoming before the game, is 0-2 while Jacksonville is 1-1, but the Red Devils feel they need this game just as much as the Bears. The Red Devils have managed just one offensive touchdown since conference play started. The offense was kept off the scoreboard last week against Jonesboro.

Figuring out why the offense isn’t clicking is the number-one task for Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley. “I’ve been mulling it over more than anybody,” Whatley said. Some of the confusion comes from the fact that the front line was the biggest question mark heading into the season. The skill positions were stocked with speed and talent and were of no concern. In the last few weeks, however, the line has done an adequate job, but the results aren’t there.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Whatley said. “I don’t know if there’s one thing you can point at. We just haven’t made plays. Big plays, routine plays, we haven’t made them for a number of reasons.”

While there may be many factors going into why the offense has struggled, Whatley plans to address one thing first and foremost. “I’m not sure some of us aren’t pressing a little bit,” Whatley said. “We aren’t enjoying ourselves and that’s what this is all about. At the beginning of the year we were doing that. We were running and throwing and catching and just having a good time. We need to get back to that.”

Lack of confidence is also a concern for Whatley, but he thinks it’s a false emotion running through the team. “You could say that’s a concern,” Whatley said. “You get to listening to the negative and it can have an effect on you. I tell the kids I’m not listening to that crap. I know what these kids are capable of. I’ve seen it and still believe in ‘em.”

Sylvan Hills confronts the Red Devils with a whole different set of hurdles for the team to overcome. One strength in particular worries Whatley. Speed, speed and more speed,” Whatley said of Sylvan Hills. “They’re a very talented and very scary football team. The defense is going to fly around and you’re not going to outrun them. We’re going to have to establish drives, which we’re not doing, and play smart defense.”

Composure in the face of adversity is another concern for the head Red Devil. There were a few cases in which cooler heads didn’t prevail against Jonesboro when things went badly. Whatley knows Sylvan Hills will have some moments this week, and that his players will have to deal with it. He also believes that situation will work itself out if the team can have fun and play with confidence.

“I think this football team will respond. I still believe in ‘em. I enjoy getting up and going to work for them every day. We’ve now got to believe in one another and have faith in what we’re capable of.”