The high school football season is a little bit past the midway point, but the year has already taken its physical toll on several teams.
No team is immune to injuries. However, some seem to get bit unfairly often by the injury bug. That’s been the case with Cass this season.
Among others, the Colonels lost a veteran on defense in senior Beau Smith and a young dynamic playmaker on offense in Zay Jackson. What the injuries have done, though, is provide a chance for younger, less-heralded players to get snaps on Friday nights.
“I think we’re bending a few kids’ roles a little bit more,” Cass head coach Bobby Hughes said after leaving the hospital following Smith's successful knee surgery. “We’re having to add a few kids who didn’t have as significant a role to play — a bigger role than maybe they had anticipated this early in their career.”
Hughes believes those players will only get better after getting to see varsity playing time, especially against some of the best teams in the state — Rome and Carrollton — the past two weeks.
“That’s probably one of the biggest tricks of the trade in the coaching industry,” Hughes said. “You have to find situations to get those kids those quality reps on Friday night, but, yet, not put them in a situation they physically aren’t ready for. You have to find that balance.
"We were fortunate the last couple of weeks to get some of those kids who are ready some reps against some really good teams. When that happens, you’re exposing them to the game at a different speed than they’ve seen it before.”
Overall, Hughes felt his guys held up well against the Wolves and Trojans. Given that the former is the two-time defending state champion and the latter is No. 5 in the state, that’s a good sign as the Colonels (1-5, 0-4 Region 7-AAAAA) move towards the friendlier end of the region schedule.
“You know who you’re playing when you’re playing the Romes and the Carrolltons,” Hughes said. “I thought we didn’t shy away. I thought we battled. They are extremely talented football teams. When you compare apples to apples, we feel good about how we competed with them.”
Up next for Cass is Hiram (3-2, 2-1) tonight on the road. The Hornets are coming off a frustrating, 27-26 loss to rival East Paulding. That defeat came on the heels of victories over Paulding County and Woodland.
The Colonels will use their familiarity with the Wildcats to attempt to avoid the pitfalls that plagued Woodland in its meeting with Hiram.
The Hornets stacked the box and dared the Wildcats to abandon their Wing-T offense and open things up. Woodland did and scored a touchdown on its first drive, but Hiram controlled things going forward in a 35-15 win.
Hughes said his team will need to show a few different wrinkles to keep Hiram’s defense honest.
“They’re really, really big,” Hughes said of the Hornets defense. “They stunt quite a bit. They base out of a similar front that we do. From a multiple standpoint, you can do a bunch of different things. We’re hoping that formationally we can do some stuff. … We’ve got to try to manipulate them a little bit formationally.”
On offense, Hiram boasts one of the most skilled backs in the region in Marcuis Fulks. The Hornets also have a veteran signal-caller in 6-foot-6 Nate Presnell.
So basically another week, another skilled team, huh, coach?
“They’ve got the big, tall quarterback that can throw it around the field,” Hughes said. “They’ve got a really good running back. It seems like we have the same conversation every week when we play in a region with teams that are extremely talented. …
“We expect a battle with [Hiram]. We’ve had a really good week of practice. We have an objective. We have to go out and try to execute that.”
Hughes said he’s a little concerned with how banged up his team is coming into a matchup against a hard-nosed opponent. But, then again, it allows some of those more inexperienced players to cut their teeth on the job.
Be it young or old, novice or veteran, the Colonels will need to collectively step up to avenge last year’s 14-7 defeat to the Hornets.
“We know it’s going to be extremely physical,” Hughes said. “We’re going to prepare ourselves for that mentally. We need to find a way to match that intensity and understand that with what they do defensively, they’re going to make some big plays but they’re also going to be susceptible to giving up some big plays. We need to stay patient in what we do but also know that when the opportunity comes, we’ve got to seize it."