Photo by Gabriel Stovall
Junior quarterback Ervin Balfour has become the kind of leader first-year Forest Park coach Don Williams was hoping for in his newly installed West Coast offense.
If the road to a state football championship could be paved with intangibles and good intentions, Forest Park could possibly engrave its name on the trophy now.
Since coach Don Williams’ was officially tapped as the latest head coach to try and spark a Forest Park football revival, he has spent the offseason doing everything, short of shaking hands and kissing babies, to galvanize support for the beleaguered program.
But with the Forest Park-Chattahoochee season opener a little more than three weeks away, Williams said it is time for the focus to shift toward the field.
“We have 10 seniors on this team and eight of them have been here all four years,” Williams said. “They’re tired of losing. They keep saying, ‘This losing isn’t us.’ They don’t want to end it that way. They’re hungry and excited.”
And it showed.
Pads were popping and players were woofing at each other in between plays during a Tuesday practice —a stark contrast to the serenity of Forest Park’s last offseason camp before fall preparation began.
Williams didn’t seem to mind though.
“This is a very aggressive game,” he said while addressing his players after practice. “But we have to make sure we stay under control. If we lose control in practice, we’ll lose control in a game.”
Junior quarterback Ervin Balfour said the Panthers’ newfound edge is a part of the game plan.
“It’s just our intensity,” he said. “We’re starting to get a chip on our shoulders. We want to be aggressive. We want to make someone feel like they want to fight us every practice. But we still have to make sure to keep it in check.”
Other than an appropriate mean streak, Forest Park’s hopes of applying some moisture in the form of wins that would snap a 12-year winning season drought will rise and fall with Balfour’s ability to navigate the newly installed West Coast offense.
And with six returning starters on offense with a full offseason to install it, Balfour believes that new playmakers are set to emerge.
“Running this offense feels great,” he said. “I’m actually surprised at how well we took to having a new offense. It’s very simple and the way its schemed will allow everyone the change to get into it.”
On the opposite side of the ball, Panthers defensive coordinator Alan Blenman is scrapping their base 5-2 scheme for a more versatile 3-3 triple stack with some 4-3 variations sprinkled in. Blenman said the switch should help bolster the amount of team speed he can get on the field.
“It’s a new scheme but it has the same verbiage,” said Blenman, who is entering his second year at Forest Park. “We’ll be able to utilize all players on the team and be able to get every ounce of talent out of every kid. If a kid can only cover effectively for five yards, this defense will have something to make that kid successful.”
After the Chattahoochee game, a decently manageable schedule should give Forest Park some opportunities to improve on its one-win total from last season. And Williams has already set his sights on doing some damage in the Panthers’ new 4A-AAAA region.
“When we hit that first sub-region game against Drew, those other games are important, but that Drew game is going to be like the start of a second season for us,” Williams said. “I’m not going to say we’re circling that game or anything, but for us, that’s going to be big.”