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Dogs, Knights hoping to start the new season off on right foot

Posted: August 16, 2018 9:26 a.m.
Updated: August 17, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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ESTEBAN RODRIGUEZ ... NC wide out

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Both Tyronne Drakeford and Brian Rimpf have been around long enough to have been a part of season-opening games in which two non-rivals square off in a game with little on the line.

That will not be the case tonight at Zemp Stadium in Camden as Rimpf and the Bulldogs host Drakeford and North Central in the 7:30 p.m. season opener.

Playing an in-county opponent adds a little more spice to the offseason, not to mention to the days leading up to the contest. That has been the case in both camps to the point to which Drakeford said he was concerned that his team may have been trying to play the game on the practice field rather than save their best for tonight.

“I think the biggest thing that has kind of worried me,” Drakeford said of this week’s practices in Boonetown, “is that our kids were getting too excited … too hyped up. Again, Camden is an in-county school and there are bragging rights involved. These kids see each other on the weekends and things like that.

“I don’t want our kids to be too hyped up to where they get out there and lose focus (on Friday) and don’t do the things they’re supposed to do. Our biggest challenge as coaches is to keep them calm and have them ready for the game on Friday.”

Another challenge for both coaching staffs is not having their players in school today. With classes not starting until next Monday, players will have nothing but free time until they have to report to school sometime this afternoon. For Drakeford and Rimpf, who are both starting their second year on their respective jobs, they can only hope their players are doing the right thing during the course of the day.

Rimpf said he will feel better about things at 3:01 p.m. today, a minute after his players are scheduled to be at the school to go through their pre-game routine. What happens some four and a half hours later is anybody’s guess.

“I think the biggest concern is always those first game jitters. The first game jitters are always something you watch out for,” Rimpf said before adding that this has been a stress-free offseason for a Bulldog squad which returns 27 seniors from a year ago.

“We are where we want to be. We’ve had a few scrimmages, a few weeks of fall camp coupled with the summer workouts and spring practice; if you had to put a percentage on it, we probably have 85 percent of our offense and defense in. There is always stuff that we’ll add as we learn the guys better; how they act when they’re out there and based on teams that we play,” he said of what was accomplished over the past eight months.

“We feel good about what we have in and, we can add a few tweaks, here and there, as we see what our guys can do on the field. 

“I feel pretty good about our preparation. Our guys are in great shape going into the season. We’re healthy. Those are all the things you want to have going into your first game of the year.”

Without having been through the grind of a year of Friday night games, both teams come into this game as healthy as they will probably be all season. What will separate this contest from one in late October will be the weather. With forecasts calling for it to be a warm evening, Drakeford said he and his coaching staff must pay particular attention to how his players --- several of whom are playing on both sides of the ball --- are handling the conditions.

Should he need to burn a time out earlier than normal, Drakeford said, then so be it. He wants his players to stay hydrated, healthy and have something left in the gas tank for the closing stretch.

“If we need to use time outs, we will,” he said. “We’ll take that as it comes but the kids have to be ready to play because, I’m sure, Camden’s not going to slow down for us. They’re going to play their game. Our guys have to be ready to go.

“We are one of the smallest teams in AA ball so when you’re playing a AAA team, obviously, you have to be smart out there. We probably won’t move the ball as fast as we would like offensively, especially because they are probably two or three deep on defense and offense; we have to be smart that way.”

Rimpf said his team’s approach has remained that of concentrating more on Camden than on what North Central or, any other team, for that matter, may or may not do. Former Bulldog head coach Jimmy Neal used to say that his team would not “chase ghosts” in practice leading up to a game.

“One reason we can prepare the way we do is that we don’t even talk about the opponent. We talk about ourselves; how’s Camden going to score more points and how is Camden going to stop the other offense … what are we going to do to get better,” Rimpf said.

“When you focus on yourself and focus on your team, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing or where the game is or who they have. That’s something we’ve really tried to stay with.”

Regardless, the Bulldogs have prepared for a Knight teams which has explosive players at the skill positions. Senior quarterback Avante’ Reynolds is athletic and can hurt you with his arm and legs. Senior Jamel Jones and sophomore Kalab Haven form a potent 1-2 combo in the backfield while Tyler Faulkenberry, Markelle Portee and Esteban Rodriguez are playmakers at wide receiver.

“North Central has some good players. The athletes they have running the ball, throwing the ball and catching the ball are some of the better ones we’ll see this year,” Rimpf said of the Knights. “They’re a smaller school so they don’t have as much depth. Whenever you have a couple athletes, it gives you a chance. We have to make sure that we’re doing what we’re supposed to do; on offense, blocking who we’re supposed to be blocking or getting that extra yard or, make that extra play. On defense, certainly, we have to get them to the ground so they can’t have the big play.”

Drakeford freely admits his team’s strength lies in its talented skill players. What concerns him is Camden’s size and experience in the trenches. The Bulldogs average nearly 300 pounds on the offensive line and 275 pounds along the offensive front.

“They’re a really good team. I’m not going to beat around the bush, we’re going to have our hands full and we’re going to have to play exceptional football to come out on top in this game. Our kids understand that,” Drakeford said.

 “I think Camden is 10 times better than they were last year. They have some fast kids and they have some big kids up front. We’ll be challenged on the offensive line, the defensive line and in the skill positions. Even though I think our strongest area is skill players, they’re just as fast and just as quick so, our guys are going to be tested.”

Drakeford said his defense must be prepared to stop or, slow down Camden’s running game which features five backs led by the speedy Shymeik Corbett who will also be joined by fellow tailbacks Mikah Davis and Willis Lane.

“One of the things I’ve learned from playing football is that you have to stop the run. If you can stop the run or, at least, slow it down, it will give us a chance to compete toward the end of the game,” Drakeford said. “Our front seven has to hold up against their offensive. They have some big guys up there and I’m sure they’re going to try and pound it at us.”

Rimpf said his team’s goal is to come out fast and set the early tempo and try to take control of the pace of play. He also said opening night allows a coach to learn about his players and how they react when the stadium lights are on.

“That first game, a week zero game, you never know how your kids are going to come out,” Rimpf said. “I think one of the neat things, as a coach, is to see your guys in that first game. Are they going to tackle every time? How fast are they going to play? Are they going to hit? 

“In practice, you don’t tackle the entire practice. To me, as a coach, that’s exciting to see how they’re going to play, see the emotion that they play with, see who rises to the challenge and see who, maybe, needs a little more work.”

Rimpf added that he expects to see an emotionally charges atmosphere tonight being that this if the first game of the season against an in-county rival while re-opening 89-yard old Zemp Stadium.

Drakeford, for his part, is hoping his team can throw some cold water on Camden’s party.

 “They’re very talented and can easily blow the game away. We’re going to do our best to try and keep this game close as we can going into the fourth quarter. If we’re close, I think we’ll have a shot to win,” he said.

 “We have a game plan. We just have to go out and execute.”

 

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