With only an offseason and preseason practice time to introduce a new offense, Rocky Mount Prep coach Danny Ward is keeping things simple.
If the running back needs to know where to run, he is assigned a letter.
If the offensive line needs to know where to block, they are assigned a letter.
If either unit can’t figure out that concept, then there will be some long days ahead for the Jaguars, who are only in their third year of varsity football and trying to navigate through a difficult league schedule.
“We’re going to run more than we pass,” Ward said. “There are fewer mistakes you can make if you can run the football.”
Simplicity is a nutrient and a necessity for Rocky Mount Prep.
The Jaguars finished 2-10 last season in their first trip through the Two Rivers Conference. Coach Don Reams did not return after the season, leaving the job to Ward, who was an assistant last season.
Ward wasn’t supposed to be doing any coaching after the 2011 season, his final at North Edgecombe after two decades at the school.
Instead of planning vacations and working on projects around the house, Ward returned to the sidelines and has since added more to his plate by serving as the school’s athletics director for the past year.
In simplifying things for Rocky Mount Prep, he is attempting to build confidence and a competitive spirit in a program that still is learning about what it takes to win.
“It’s basic smashmouth football he is trying to get us to run,” Jaguars offensive lineman Ethan Keeter said. “I have one guy to block, and I’m trying to get to the next.”
Ward has inherited some issues he experienced at North Edgecombe, such as depth and offseason attendance.
The Jaguars have no more than 20 players on their varsity roster, which leaves little room for injuries.
More than a handful of players, including Keeter, will play on both sides of the ball, which could lead to depth issues against talented and better skilled conference foes like Tarboro.
The skilled position players – running backs Mark Tann and Percy Harper – are more than capable of making big plays, but they will play behind an offensive line that Ward said lacks depth at this point of the preseason.
At a school where male students still show apprehension about a football team in its infant stages, winning is something that can fill jerseys.
There were a number of games last season in which the clock ran continuously in the second half, signaling a blowout in the opposition’s favor.
Opponents scored 50 or more points against the Jaguars seven times in 2013.
“I want to be in a situation where they are trying to escape from us,” said Keeter, a team captain. “It has been rough on us. It’s time for us to dominate people instead of us being dominated.”
The Jaguars seem to be making small steps toward that goal. Last summer the Jaguars were lucky if a handful of players showed up to preseason workouts.
This summer, Keeter and Ward said it was normal to have 30 players in attendance on a daily basis.
“We’re trying to teach them to accept responsibility,” Ward said. “If you want to get better, you have to work. The guys that have been out there have been great. It’s just not enough of them out there.”
Ward said he can see a scenario in which the Jaguars struggle during the nonconference portion of their schedule before playing better during the Two Rivers season.
It is a formula that worked often for Ward at North Edgecombe, which also fought low roster numbers and a spread out student body that made it difficult to hold effective offseason workouts.
The Jaguars could be looking at another season where success is not measured in wins and losses but rather in playing assignment football and staying away from that dreaded running clock.
“I want us competing again,” Ward said. “I want the guys to get better. Winning for me is seeing guys compete and winning battles on the field.”
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or firstname.lastname@example.org