Billies hit ground running MHS has great first week of practice, coach says
High expectations await the Monticello football team this season, but let it be said the Billies are off to a running start.
MHS opened fall practice with one of the best first weeks in head coach Van Paschal's recent memory. The Billies reported Monday, August 3, and worked out in shorts for three days before donning full pads.
"We've got a lot of senior leadership," Paschal said of this year's squad. "There's a good feeling in the locker room. They get along well together, they don't seem to be jealous of each other. We had a little bit of that last year.
"And the kids are enjoying practice. The better teams that I've had as a coach were the kids that did that."
The Billies are flying high this preseason after finishing 10-3 in 2008 and coming within a whisker of advancing to the state championship game. Monticello fell 8-7 to West Helena in the Class 5A semifinals.
Hooten's has MHS ranked No. 2 to start the season and tabbed to repeat as 5A Southeast champions on the strength of a large and talented senior class.
It's a class Monticello fans have had high hopes for since an undefeated junior high campaign, but Paschal said the attention hasn't gone to the players' heads.
"If they're cocky and arrogant, you're fighting something, but I haven't seen that," Paschal said. "It's a good group of kids."
Depth behind them could be an issue, however. The coach said 51 players reported for fall camp, down from 70 in the spring.
"We lost a few to summertime workouts," he said. "Grades hurt us this year. We lost about a dozen kids to grades."
The good news is the Billies have avoided injury thus far, though senior kicker Tyler Paschal had to sit out the first week after being treated for a staph infection in his foot.
Paschal said the biggest question mark coming into this season was defense, where the coach must replace stalwart tackles Ashton Pennywell and Joe Marks. Paschal was encouraged by what he saw from Drew Briggs and Aaron Riley.
"They're not 280 (pound) kids like those other two, they're more like 215, 210," Paschal said. "But they're strong and they can move."
Inside linebacker was another area that needed help, and Paschal was pleased with the progress of sophomore Troy Brunson, who stood out during Friday's practice.
"That's a real plus for us if Troy can come on and relieve some of those guys (at inside linebacker)," Paschal said. "Troy's a 200-pound kid. He's no slouch."
The biggest shoes to fill on offense belong to do-everything quarterback Ty Ferrell, a dangerous runner who accounted from more than 2,000 yards last season. Paschal said the offense has looked good under the guidance of senior Joe Carmical, who will pull double duty at quarterback and linebacker.
Carmical gave MHS some quality minutes under center last season when Ferrell went down with an ankle injury.
"(Carmical) is doing a good job running the offense," Paschal said. "Joe is able to throw the ball probably better than Ty, and he's a sharp thinker. That helps us."
The offense as a whole is senior-laden, and unlike last season when the Billies opened 0-2 experimenting with the Spread, Paschal isn't tinkering with his tried-and-true Double Wing this year.
"I learned my lesson on that," he said, laughing. "We've worked on this offense since the second week of January."
Paschal said he put his first offense up against what was essentially his first defense Friday and liked what he saw.
"It was good, a good battle," he said. "We got something out of it."
The Billies are scheduled to open the 2009 season August 31 in Pine Bluff as part of the Hooten's Classic. They'll face DeQueen, the second-ranked team in Class 4A, at 5:30 p.m.
The annual Blue-White game is scheduled for August 21, and Paschal's squad will travel to Dumas for a scrimmage August 24. Kickoff for both is set for 6 p.m.