Photo by Brian Paglia
Woodland head coach Scott Schmitt has been looking this summer for players who can contribute on both sides of the ball.
ROAD TO KICKOFF
The Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald are counting down the days until our high school football special section comes out on August 24 by taking a look at all 22 area high school football teams.
Woodland at a glance
Last year: 2-8
Summer progress: It was all about creating depth for the Wolfpack. “Next Man In” was the motto, so finding players capable of contributing effectively on both sides of the ball became the goal this summer.
Work to do: There’s no real answer yet at kicker. Woodland coach Scott Schmitt has even considered going for two-point conversions after every touchdown. That’s if sophomore Kiu Ngo, a newcomer to the position, doesn’t develop as fast as Woodland hopes.
Emerging player: Mark Hall is going to be a three-year starter at defensive end, but he’ll also spend time at linebacker and tight end.
Safety was a position Malcolm Miller had almost forgotten. He’d long abandoned it for the thrill of taking the handoff and seeing what he could do with the ball in his hands. Miller’s goal was to reach the safety before the safety reached him.
“I was a safety in rec, but that’s about it,” Miller said. “I didn’t really know anything about safety.”
Now, Miller is the safety. At least when the Wolfpack needs him to be.
He’s caught up in Woodland’s “Next Man In” motto, the Wolfpack’s summer-long mission to develop greater depth by finding players capable of contributing effectively on both sides of the ball.
“It’s a concept of if somebody’s not here or somebody’s injured, everybody’s equally prepared,” Miller said. “They can just jump in and everybody’s ready to go.”
After a disappointing 2-8 season just two seasons removed from a 7-4 playoff run, Woodland coach Scott Schmitt was looking for something to reinvigorate the program.
Not long after the season ended, Schmitt and his assistant coaches met and started to develop the “Next Man In” concept. They wanted something that could keep players motivated and engaged over the long summer. Schmitt had also been looking for a way to decrease the gap in skill level between the team’s starters and backups.
“It just turned out real good for us for competition purposes and athletic purposes,” Schmitt said. “Now we’re going to put the best kids where we need to.”
Maybe that would have helped the Wolfpack score more than 8.7 points a game last season. Or give up less than 23.4 points. Or pull out close wins against Starr’s Mill and Jones County instead of 9-7 and 14-7 losses, respectively.
“After last season we were probably one year too late with this,” Schmitt said.
Regardless, Schmitt’s plan is in place now, and players have embraced it.
“We were all kind of excited,” senior offensive lineman David Ricard said. “Most of the offensive guys want to play defense, and most of the defensive guys want to play offense. So we all get a chance to play both.”
Ricard is a perfect example of Woodland’s newfound versatility. When it’s time to move the ball, he’s a starting offensive guard. But flip the script, and Woodland doesn’t hesitate to run Ricard onto the field on the defensive line.
It’s nothing new for Ricard. He’s 6-foot-3, 260 pounds and equal parts fast and strong, — traits that easily translate from the offensive to defensive line.
But he said the key to remaining effective while playing more is a prepared body.
“You have to be really well conditioned,” Ricard said. “We practice every day. We run up and down this field every day. So we’re getting in good shape.
“But more it’s seeing the guy in front of you. Just seeing one guy go on offense and defense wondering how they do it, staying in shape how they do, and then we’ll both be as good as we need to be.”
All hands are on deck to help Woodland have the deepest team it can.
Sean Moore and Ryan Rasar start on the offensive line, but have seen significant practice time on defense. Jerry Silver is a starting defensive tackle, but can also play guard on offense.
Miller returns as the starting running back and will split carries with junior Mark Bussey and sophomore Jairius Shade. They form three-fourths of the Wolfpack’s secondary.
Perhaps the most versatile of them all is Mark Hall. He’s a three-year starter at defensive end, but also sees time at linebacker and is the team’s starting tight end.
Combine it all, and Woodland feels it has the ability to withstand injuries or fatigue late in games.
“We just thought it was a good thing for them to understand that you never know when you’re going to be called,” Schmitt said. “So you’ve got to be ready on both sides of the ball instead of being limited.”
Consider Miller a believer.
“It’s new, but it’s fun,” Miller said. “Learning new things, trying to get prepared for the season so I can help the team as best I can.”