Photos by Brian Paglia
Woodland senior running back David Williams is expected to carry a big offensive load this season to take pressure off a young quarterback.
By Darryl Maxie
For three seasons, Woodland was the newest kid on the block and a program always on the rise. The Wolfpack were a .500 team by their second season, a playoff qualifier by their third. Hey, this football thing is easy, once you get the hang of it.
Or so the Wolfpack made it look -- until the fourth season.
"Last season, we took a step backward," coach Scott Schmitt said.
Maybe success came too easily, too quickly. It was easy to see the beginnings of greatness last season as long as you didn't look too hard for the follow through. In the second game of the season, the Wolfpack had Class AAAA finalist Starr's Mill on the ropes into the second half.
That would turn into a 21-7 loss, the first of six in a row, but ...
"We had Starr's Mill down 7-0," Schmitt said. "We were controlling the game, dominating, we held their top running back to 45 yards ... and then we fell apart. I hate that."
Even amid their slump, they still showed signs of being a team with which to reckon. A week after breaking that losing streak, the Wolfpack lost by only six points against Class AAAA quarterfinalist Dutchtown.
"If we could get rid of the last three minutes of the fourth quarter, we'd have won eight games," Schmitt said. "Unfortunately, you have to play all four quarters. We came out quick in the first quarter, but we would taper off in the fourth quarter.
It had nothing to do with fatigue or too many guys playing both sides of the football.
"I think we just got complacent or satisfied," Schmitt said.
The Wolfpack counted a lot of first-time junior starters and other young players last season, guys who should improve this season just because of what they went through.
"There's a lot of difference between ninth-grade JV and Friday night football," Schmitt said. "We had guys who were used to doing Thursday night stuff. You can't trade anything for experience."
Even if that experience is bad. Schmitt said this team might be better because they recognized their predecessors' mistakes and are determined not to repeat them.
"Our senior class did some things that you don't want to do," Schmitt said. "The juniors made a pact that they would not see themselves in the same situation. You can see it in our offseason conditioning, attitude, commitment. They came together. They showed each other that they didn't want it to be like this again."
Already, Schmitt has more confidence in his personnel. The Wolfpack often was compelled to gamble in certain situations last season where other teams would routinely kick field goals.
With Josh Kiblinger kicking, the Wolfpack rejoins that club.
They have a pair of running backs in Ray Tookes and David Williams who Schmitt hopes will keep the pressure off sophomore quarterback Taylor Poff. They want to bring Poff along slowly, not depending on him to win the game.
"All we need him to do is manage the game and the rest will take care of itself," Schmitt said.
The defense, which allowed more than 24 points in a game only twice last season, is solid again, led by end Nathan Sanders and linebackers Eddie McGill and Ivory Bryant.
Given those ingredients, Schmitt is confident that this year's Wolfpack can find the rhythm that last year's team lacked, that they can "get back to where we belong."
Back to being a team on the rise again.