POWHATAN – On a bright and sunny Friday morning – a welcome reprieve from the previous week’s encroachingly hot weather – Powhatan High School Football’s voluntary practice culminated in game-time situations that challenged the offense to quickly run through simulated pressure scenarios like skipping the huddle to go into the next play, spiking the ball and taking a fourth-down snap.
That was a new addition to this summer’s practices.
It was hard to tell.
The players systematically worked their way through each play, hardly missing a step until the simulated pressure drive ended with a well-placed throw and a reaching catch on the right edge for the touchdown.
“That’s how well they picked that up,” head coach Mike Henderson said.
As summer practices continue on, the Indians are gearing up for Year 1 under veteran coach Henderson, who led Blessed Sacrament Huguenot Football to five VISAA state championships and most recently led Douglas Freeman Football to six winning seasons in the last seven years.
“Anytime you take over a new program, there’s still a new set of adjustments the players have to make, and the coaches to a degree as well,” Henderson said. “We’re trying to implement our schemes, understanding that what we’re running is considerably different probably than what they ran here before, at least on offense.”
There’s still a period of adjustment going on with the way that Henderson wants to run certain things, and also with the tempo that he expects. But the student-athletes, he said, have been working really hard.
“There are a lot of guys that have been showing up for our workouts and for our voluntary summer practices and been tremendous,” he said. “We’re showing up in the 40s, 50s even in the 60s sometimes just for daily workouts. We’re really pleased with that. We’re excited about the way the guys are buying-in.”
The focused approach that the players showcased in those end-of-practice, game-time scenarios was also consistently on display throughout the morning session.
“We tell our guys there’s times to have fun and football is a lot of work, but the amount of time that you put into football has to be fun, too, so we just tell our guys: try to separate – the fun is: hanging out in the locker room; the fun is: these are your buddies for life; the fun is: going to cookouts or in between practices,” Henderson said. “But when we’re on the field, we’re working, and I think the guys are learning…we’re real approachable coaches, but we expect effort and discipline when we’re on the field, and I think the guys are doing a pretty good job of knowing when to work and when to relax.”
While Henderson knows that Powhatan’s players in the past were under center a lot and centered on running the football, he expects that they’ll be spreading the formations out a little bit more this year – for instance, they’ll likely be in shotgun considerably more than the Indians were previously.
He goes by the coaching philosophy of taking advantage of the personnel that the team has.
“If we have a bunch of 285-pound linemen and a big, strong tailback, we’re gonna get in the [I-formation] and pound the football,” Henderson said. “If we’ve got some great skilled kids and quarterbacks who can wing it down the field, we’re gonna go three-and-four-wide and throw it around a little bit. Whatever we’re good at is what we’ll do more of.”
Given the players they have in their skills spots right now, Henderson and his staff are looking to get as many of those skills guys onto the field at one time as they can.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on any one group because obviously football’s the ultimate team game, but we do like the playmakers we have on the outside; we have some speed out there, we have some length, we’ve got some guys that have great hand-eye coordination and body control,” Henderson said. “I feel like putting the ball in the air and giving those guys a chance to make some plays probably is our strength right now, but at the same point, we have four senior running backs that are battling it out that are pretty darn good football players, too.
“We’re not gonna be throwing the ball 75 percent of the time,” he said. “But my goal is gonna be to spread it out a little bit so when we do run the ball, hopefully we’ll have some better running lanes rather than kind of cram everybody in.”
Henderson said they feel their offensive line is going to be a strong point, but right now, it’s probable that they’ll start at least two juniors and at least two sophomores up front. So although Henderson sees a lot of potential in his offensive line, he’s not yet sure how fast those young players are going to come along in those starting positions.
As the Indians transition to a new coaching era, they’re also turning a new page at the starting quarterback position. With Jacob Moss having graduated, there’s no returning starter, and as of Friday, Aug. 2, the competition for the role was still ongoing between senior Lance Fleming, junior Aaron Nash and sophomore Hans Rehme.
Henderson said they all do different things well.
“Lance is a senior and he’s pretty solid in all facets; Aaron is a tremendous athlete – he’s also one of our best receivers,” Henderson said. “Hans has a super strong arm, but he’s a sophomore...[they all] bring something to our team that’s unique, and trying to figure out which one is the starter will kind of be our main crux of summer practice.”
Henderson’s right and left hands on offense are run-game coordinator Paul Williams and pass-game coordinator Austin Wingfield; Blake Derby, who has been with Henderson across his previous stops in the past 11 years as his defensive coordinator - and has also played for Henderson - is helming Powhatan’s defense.
“He does a fantastic job; he’s got a great rapport with the kids,” Henderson said, “and we try to go with the same general philosophy – we try to identify our best 11 defensive players and: What can we run to get those guys on the field?”
They’ll look to identify which base formation best works for their defense in the summer. Powhatan has some returners from last year that they’ll be counting on to be key players, but Henderson spoke to looking to know more about his defensive unit once they returned to pads.
As of their late July summer practices, the Indians were focused on sharpening up some of their assignments and attention to details.
“I think everyone has a general idea of where we’re going on this running play or this pass play, but the techniques aren’t always great right now, but we’re learning the plays,” Henderson said July 26. “There’s plenty of time to polish up the technique.”
Barbecue for Powhatan Football alumni
Henderson and his coaching staff are looking forward to next Sunday’s Powhatan High School Football Alumni barbecue, through which past Powhatan High School Football players and coaches have been invited to come out and meet Henderson and his coaching staff. The barbecue, free and open only to Powhatan Football alumni, will be held Sunday, Aug. 11 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Bienvenue (3841 Old Buckingham Rd., Powhatan).