TARBORO – When SouthWest Edgecombe took the field for the Tarboro Football Jamboree on Friday, it all made sense.
For two and a half weeks, coach Jonathan Cobb has been imploring his team to be “scrappy.”
The Cougars aren’t going to be the biggest team nor the most talented, and that was plenty evident during Friday’s festivities when schools like Greenville Rose and Farmville Central towered over SouthWest Edgecombe. Cobb knew it would take a special tenacity to bring this team back to the playoffs, and it all sunk in during Friday’s scrimmages.
“We’re undersized and I told them we need to be a scrappy, hard-fighting football team,” Cobb said. “It’s going to be good for us to see it in person and they’ll realize exactly what we need to do to compete with the teams on our schedule.
“I want our guys to get on the field and get after it and be willing to put their bodies on the line and try to match and exceed their opponent’s intensity.”
Devontrell Hyman said the coaching staff has placed an emphasis on the fourth quarter during practice and is urging the team to try and “win” the quarter during games. This means the team has done many extra conditioning drills at the end of practice in hopes of keeping that fighting spark alive for all 48 minutes.
“We run and when we get really tired coach makes us do push-ups and push ourselves,” Hyman said. “In the fourth quarter, we’re going to be tired and we want to keep pushing and not give up.”
Cobb is entering his second year as a head coach and said he learned a lot from his first year. He said the communication between the players and staff has been better so far this offseason, but more importantly he realizes he can’t try to do too much at once and must simplify his approach on both sides of the ball.
One specific example he pointed out was the way he managed Hyman last season. Cobb admitted he likely gave Hyman too many carries, and as a result, the senior did not reach his potential at defensive end. This season, the coaching staff challenged Hyman to improve his fitness so that he would be more prepared to handle the large workload ahead of him.
“We’ve told him ‘you’re going to have to be in shape and you’re going to be tough and you’re going to have to dig in,’” Cobb said. “He’s a player that’s too good to sit on the sideline for too long.”
Hyman said he feels like his fitness is at a pretty good level considering he has been less tired after practices than in seasons past. The senior will need to continue to maintain his endurance as he will be a key cog on both sides of the ball this season for the Cougars. The 5-foot-9, 240-pound back has shifty feet and can lower his shoulder to gain that extra yard or two after contact on offense. On defense, he will be a tough load to block given his speed off the edge and his upper-body strength. He showcased that several times during the jamboree with stops in the backfield and quarterback hurries.
Hyman is only one of a plethora of running backs Cobb has at his disposal this season. Hyman is the power runner of the bunch, juniors Marcus Williams and Keanan Williams provide a speed option and senior Barry Smith being a versatile back who has good speed, but can also shift inside to play fullback if called upon.
Add KyNazi Page and Trevon Pittman, who both impressed Cobb at the jamboree, and there are a stable of backs fighting over one ball. Cobb said he has a very good problem on his hands at running back and he believes this year the backs have finally bought into the system.
“It comes with its challenges and they all have to understand there’s only so much pie to go around and each of them is going to get a piece of it,” Cobb said. “It took me a whole year and a half to get to this point, but they’re starting to understand that and buy into it.”
The defense will be a different story for the Cougars, who are looking to replace several key starters from last year’s team. The onus will fall on Hyman and senior Brandon Jones, a three-year starter at middle linebacker, to anchor the unit. Jones said he has been working on his leadership skills this offseason in anticipation of his new role and plans on trying to be more of a vocal leader on the field. With a young secondary and undersized defensive linemen, Jones will also need to lead by example and make some big tackles in crucial situations. Cobb said the team needs to work more on some of the fundamentals and Jones added he feels like the defense needs to work on wrapping up the ball carrier on tackles.
The Cougars missed several tackles during Friday’s scrimmages that turned into long plays for the opposition.
Despite some of the challenges, Jones said he sees the talent on the roster, the players now must rise to the occassion as the season approaches.
“We’re young, we just have to step up, make plays and fill in the gaps,” Jones said.