WEST POINT —
When you think of two-a-days in Alabama, you’re liable to picture the sun high in the sky, baking the football field — and players — in unbearable humidity and temperatures upward of 100 degrees.
On Monday, however, Don Farley and his West Point squad were able to take advantage of some unseasonably cool summer weather during the team’s first preseason practice, where the interim coach was pleased with what he saw out of his players on Day 1.
“I don’t think the kids or the coaches could have asked for a better day,” Farley said. “It was great out here. I thought things went really well. The kids were excited, fired up. We accomplished what we set out to do today.”
Most of the squad’s first practice consisted of installing some new schemes and terminology — the Warriors have tinkered with things on both sides of the ball — as well as asking the kids to get in what Farley called “thinking mode.”
“Today was just an extension of the summer,” he said. “The kids have handled everything well. They know they have a chance at a good season if they do the right things. They really stepped up and did what we asked of them. I couldn’t be happier about it.”
While many players were chomping at the bit to return to the field, Farley got to take in the scene from a different point-of- view. The coach, who served as the team’s defensive coordinator for the past several seasons, found himself in a new role on Monday, covering all aspects of the Warriors’ practice rather than focusing on just one side of the ball.
Farley assumed the role of interim coach following the June 20 arrest of A.J. Lamar for public intoxication. Lamar later resigned as head coach in July, giving the former assistant the chance to take over the West Point program.
Principal Heith Yearwood is expected to officially announce a replacement later this week.
According to Farley, the move has been quite a change.
“I think the biggest difference is probably not as much coaching,” he said. “In a sense of on-the-field decisions, at least. I’ve been able to do more one-on-one coaching, and I really enjoy doing that, teaching the kids. I can do that now, whereas as a defensive coordinator I’d be worried about all 11 at the same time. It’s definitely give and take for me.”
With the season less than a month away, many kids might be overwhelmed by a sudden coaching change, coupled with changing philosophies on both units.
For the players donning the Maroon and White, however, it’s been about as smooth as they could ask for.
Chandler Nelson, a senior offensive lineman, said the team’s effort on Monday was about “as good as it gets” and added they’re behind their new coach 100 percent.
“It was great getting back out here and going with the team,” Nelson said. “I love having that mentality of going until you can’t do anymore. The team looked good.
“Coach Farley has stepped in and done a great job under the pressure. We respect him a lot, and we think he’s going to do a really great job for us this season.”
As far as the changes go on offense, the Warriors have decided to mix it up a bit, changing from a strict triple-option attack to a more versatile, balanced pistol formation approach.
The new scheme will allow West Point to take advantage of quarterback Bryant Farley’s ability to throw on the run, as well as giving him the run-pass option on most passing plays. It will also find a plethora of ways to get the football into the hands of the Warriors’ best playmakers, including running back Kobe Smith, hybrid player Tristan Dubberly, wide receiver Jordan McKenzie and tight end Ryder Jones.
Farley enters his junior season with two years as the Warriors’ primary signal-caller and said he is more comfortable than ever under center.
“I feel better knowing the plays and knowing the reads I have to go through,” he said. “The change in schemes hasn’t been too hard for us to learn. We are running similar schemes but with a different twist.”
With a veteran offensive line, a seasoned quarterback and speed at all the skill positions, West Point’s offensive unit will play a big part in the Warriors’ success this season, especially since they will be fielding a relatively young, inexperienced defense when they take the field against Brewer on Aug. 30.
“I think our offense is a strength,” coach Farley said. “We’re going to be relying a lot on them. We’ve been playing more of them since they were freshman, so we are expecting them to step it up and play well. Defensively, we are going to get there. Depth is going to be the biggest thing for us.”
As with any other team, the Warrior coaches and players enter the first day of practice with one goal in mind — making the playoffs.
To do so, West Point will have to build off last year’s three-win season and, once again, trek through a dastardly region that includes Cullman, Russellville, Hartselle, Muscle Shoals and other perennial playoff contenders.
“It’s tough for sure,” Farley said. “However, there are no surprises for these kids. They know what they’re up against. We’ve adapted to it, and we are looking forward to playing against the best."
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at email@example.com.