Photo by Gabriel Stovall Ola junior center Andy Johnson prepares for a play during a practice scrimmage as the Mustangs prepare for Friday's game at Locust Grove.
Last Friday’s 38-30 victory over Eagle’s Landing was not the first time Ola had won a season opener with John Kovzel as head coach.
In fact, the Mustangs are 2-1 in such games.
But the fifth-year coach will tell you that the others haven’t felt like this.
“We showed a lot of resiliency in that one,” Kovzel said. “It showed that our kids believed in their coaching staff, and that we responded well to the halftime adjustments.”
Senior JoJo Spann — who was around when Ola won its last opener in 2010 against Henry County — said that there was definitely a distinct difference.
“It’s how we won,” Spann said. “We were down and had to score consecutive touchdowns. We had to make plays to win at the end. It just gave us the mindset that anything’s possible.”
Spann, a receiver who said the Mustangs offense occasional calls for him to play running back as well, was perhaps one of the biggest reasons why Ola has started off 1-0.
The senior toted the ball for 136 yards, including two touchdowns, but gladly shifted the praise toward his offensive line — a much maligned unit in 2011 that Spann says has made marked improvement during the offseason.
“Our O-line stepped up big time,” he said. “Last year we struggled a bit, but I think our weight training and our conditioning this past summer is paying off.”
Kovzel said he agrees with his standout player’s assessment.
“The offensive line is definitely playing better,” Kovzel said. “Allot of that is due to our coaches who are able to spend 45 to 50 minutes with them every day in practice, counseling with them and training them up.”
This, even despite an injury last Wednesday to starting center Steven Hill.
Kovzel said he’s had to move some guys around and has even given the nod for freshman Jacque Case to start — the first freshman Kovzel said he’s ever started on an offensive line.
But not only did Spann find himself darting through running lanes, he was also closing up passing windows.
No bigger play did the senior make last Friday than when he nabbed an interception with less than a minute left in regulation and to close the deal for Ola.
“It was a huge play for us,” Spann said. “Either they catch it or we catch it.”
As dramatic of a win as it was, Kovzel said that this game, and all of the rest in 2012, will be about more than wins and losses and trying to make the playoffs.
That’s because the presence of junior varsity lineman Jason Holland who passed away three weeks ago still lingers with the Mustangs.
A decorative memorial with Holland’s number 77 hangs on the fence surrounding the practice field.
Kovzel said the players gather around it and pray for the Holland family and each other at the end of every practice. It’s something he said the Mustangs will do every week for the rest of the year.
“It still weighs hard and heavy on us,” said Kovzel of Holland’s death.
“His folks still come to the games. He never got the chance to play on Fridays, so I tell my players that they aren’t just playing for themselves anymore. They are playing for two.”
Friday Ola will try to go 2-0 for the first time in school history as it travels to Locust Grove.
Kovzel calls the Wildcats a team that will pose lots of problems for the Mustangs. He is hoping that the good feelings from a come-from-behind win will translate into solid play.
“I think kids are starting to see what we’re doing out here,” he said. But around here it’s a one game at a time deal. We’re not looking far down the road. We just want to keep building and trying to get better.”