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When bad is good in high school football

With QB Anderson Castle (#7, left) listening in, head coach Ryan Habich offers some one on one instruction to sophomore right tackle Grant Lawrence (73).

By David Rogers. August 10, 2019. MAIDEN, NC — Getting back to “live” football saw mixed results for Watauga High School on Saturday. On the one hand, they didn’t play very well. On the other hand, head coach Ryan Habich relished the many early season teaching moments.

COVER IMAGE: Senior wingback Jaiden Bond (21) turns the corner and cuts upfield. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

“Even though we have some key skill players returning,” Habich told the 70+ Pioneer gridders kneeling before him after a scrimmage against 2A powerhouse Maiden High School on the Blue Devils’ home field, “we are not the same football team that won 13 games last year, including going undefeated in winning the Northwestern Conference championship…Right now, we aren’t even a good football team, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t be good.”

A good size contingent of interested Watauga fans made the trip to Maiden.

What Habich was explaining to his student athlete charges is the obvious, but often overlooked fact that high school football teams (just like in college) see a tremendous amount of turnover from year to year.

“We had some key seniors who were leaders last year and they graduated,” he reminded the players. “Some guys move away. We have new students move to town who weren’t part of last year’s team…I am excited that we have 25 freshmen out this year, the largest freshman class in the last six years…But this is a new team.  We still have to build our team chemistry and each of you individually has to understand your respective roles within the team.”

Habich was quick to say the same thing to reporters after the scrimmage, too.

Watauga has the makings of perhaps its best offensive line in several years, with with formidable size and athletic ability.

Contributing to Watauga’s onfield success the past six years, is what Habich preaches as “The Watauga Way,” a culture that he and the others on the coaching staff have tried to instill in the players.  There are five key principles: attitude, effort, commitment, discipline, and teamwork.

To help communicate these principles and nurture a culture that has success on and off the field, Habich uses acronyms which, coincidentally, the younger generations of recent years have grown used to in texting one another.

  • WTW — Work to Win
  • GPE — Give Perfect Effort
  • TBM — Team Before Me

In a word, Habich was disappointed in Watauga football’s overall performance in the scrimmage against Maiden not so much because of his players athletic abilities, but because of their general attitude, as well as their execution of assignments.

Watauga’s defense gave up some big gains — and TD passes, like this one late in the session.

“You wouldn’t do this in a real game, but during this scrimmage we ran one play — the same play — three times in a row over the right side,” he recalled for reporters. “Every time members of the offensive line missed their blocking assignments. We have to fix that.”

This year’s team theme is “ownership.” He wants each player to take personal ownership of his performance, his readiness, and his role on the team.

“We didn’t have that ownership today,” Habich noted. “There were too many BCD’s out here.  When things didn’t go quite right players were blaming others, complaining about things, or defending the actions that led to things going wrong. We don’t tolerate BCD’s on this team. You take ownership of your role and the results, and are commited and disciplined in striving to getting better when things don’t go the way you want them to.”

Once in the clear, Satterfield (22) was an elusive target while packing the pigskin.

Now in his seventh season at the helm of the Pioneers, Habich recognized that Saturday’s organizational format was not necessarily designed to win a football game, but instead to get each of the more than 70 guys making the trip — three buses full — on film.

“We had a lot of rotations in and out today, on and off the field,” he explained. “We wanted everyone on tape so we can watch them and see what we have, who can play, who has potential, and who has some work to do. In a real game, you wouldn’t have that. Whether senior or freshman, the guy who is best prepared to help the team win is the one who is going to fill a role.”

The two sides also switched frequently between varsity units playing against their varsity counterparts for a series of plays, then the junior varsity squads faced each other. Some positive highlights:

  • While Maiden made some later adjustments that stifled Watauga’s offense both inside and on the perimeter toward the end of the session, in early series there were nice gains up the middle by both leading B-back candidates, Jake Watson and Bryce Satterfield. Watson appeared powerful at times in “moving a pile” up the middle for 5-10 yard chunks, while Satterfield showed familiar flashes in bursting through even small openings that materialized in the line, including 20- to 30-yard pickups
  • Satterfield had less success on the perimeter, but wingback Jaiden Bond broke off some long runs around the outside. Once he turned the corner, he was often outran the nearest defenders for large gains.
  • Senior quarterback Anderson Castle chipped off some good gains rushing, but his aerial connections to wide receivers, such as Grant Oliver, were more noteworthy.
  • Oliver and other defensive backs did a nice job of breaking up some Maiden passes, although much of the Blue Devils’ damage was done through the air

Watauga will try to improve on its performance on Thursday (August 15th), when they participate in a “Varsity Jamboree” scrimmage involving the Pioneers, East Surry, North Surry, and Ashe County at Appalachian State’s Kidd-Brewer Stadium. The scrimmage starts at 6:30 pm, with a $7 admission charge. Spectators are asked to use the Rivers Street Parking Deck.

Eight days later, on August 23rd, Watauga opens the regular season at home against Asheville-TC Roberson, 7:30, at Jack Groce Stadium.

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