By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Confidence in athletes comes and goes in the blink of an eye. After a Week 7 victory at Lakeview, the Jefferson football team was riding the high end of the wave Friday night in preparation for a matchup with Champion at Falcon Pride Stadium.
Jefferson took the field for warmups with a buzz of electricity. The win 24-20 at Lakeview was only a small part of it, however. The Falcons were also looking a head, at least a little.
“We’re riding high after last week,” senior receiver defensive back Jacob Hamilton said. “We’re starting to get excited because we’re toward the end of the season.”
Most teams don’t like to look past the game they are playing, however, the Falcon coaches made a point of reminding their charges what was at stake in regards to the bigger picture.
“Do your jobs,” assistant coach Rob Mead reminded the linebackers and running backs. “You win this one tonight and continue doing your jobs, you could be looking at (being) 8-2.”
That doesn’t mean the Falcons themselves are thinking two weeks ahead. For their part, they just want to get past each opponent as they come with the Golden Flashes in their immediate future and Girard and Conneaut looming in the season’s final two weeks.
“We want to take it one game at a time,” Hamilton said. “But we definitely want to go out and be 8-2.”
That said, the Falcons seemed ready for whatever Champion might have in store. There was some added pop to hits in the pregame stations. There was some hooting and hollering. And the coaches were a bit more boisterous than they might usually be.
“It’s really important to be ready to play,” Hamilton said. “We don’t want to come out flat. We’re not taking (Champion) lightly. They’re fast. They have three wins (entering the game) for a reason.”
Even head coach Jimmy Henson noticed the air around the team was a bit different.
“There’s some bounce to them,” he said.
Of course, maybe not all of the excitement had to do with football. The Falcons are teenagers, after all, and Friday was an abnormal day.
“They weren’t in school today,” Mead said.
The players, however, weren’t the only ones who seemed to have caught the fever. Mead, for his part, was every bit as excited as they were, though he was able to channel the emotion a bit a better, on the field, anyway.
“Get the eyes working,” Mead was shouting at his linebackers. “See everything. It’s all about the eyes. Use all of your peripheral (vision)! Small steps in longer ones. That’s it! Good speed.
“The great linebackers use their eyes! Look at (Chicago Bears great) Mike Singletary and (current Baltimore Ravens star) Ray Lewis!”
That last bit actually got a response from his troops.
“Yeah, but they don’t wrap!” linebacker Shayne Crumrine said. “They’re headhunters!”
Mead was ready, though, for that response.
“Singletary did,” he said. “Back in his day, that’s all they knew.”
The exchange was telling, at least a little, in regards to the Falcons understanding that seeing the play and just making the hit are not enough. They have to make sure to finish the play.
Back in the locker room before kickoff, the Falcons were a bit more subdued, but it was easy to see they were ready. And with about nine minutes until the start, Henson made sure to remind them just what they needed to do.
“We talked about it,” he said. “This week is a big assignment week. Do your jobs! Take the option away and smack them! D-ends, I want that quarterback hit and hit and hit! Defensive tackles, move and get to the ball.”
And with a final reminder from Mead, it was game time.
“Focus on the physical,” Mead said. “Let’s get after it right now!”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at email@example.com.
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