While it may not have grabbed headlines at the time, the Highland Regional High School football team’s 41-0 win over Pleseantville on the final day of the 2011 season had a big impact on the players that took the field. The victory not only snapped a season-long losing streak, but gave the players a taste of what victory feels like.
It’s a taste they would like to experience a lot more this season. That’s why players have put in extra effort in the weight room during the off-season and have come to camp with the right attitude, according to head coach Craig Stinson.
“Whenever you win or whenever you have team chemistry, guys want to take that extra step to do what’s necessary to do the right thing,” Stinson said.
Chemistry is a word Stinson emphasized on multiple occasions following Friday’s practice, and it comes as no surprise. For smaller programs such as Highland, how well and how quickly the players gel can go a long way in determining a team’s chances for success. Players must be able to trust and rely on one another on both sides of the ball.
Another key factor in the Tartans' efforts to improve on last year’s record will be the team’s ability to avoid injuries. Highland was plagued by injuries last season and the depth was not there to make up for the players lost.
“I think we have 14-15 players coming back this year, but the main thing is keeping those guys healthy,” Stinson said. “Then we need to develop some of the younger guys to be role players. We don’t have the numbers so a lot of guys will be playing both sides of the ball. Conditioning, staying healthy and developing key backups are key.”
Below are several other storylines to follow:
- Martin once again at running back: Dan Martin has been a standout running back for Highland since he broke onto the scene as a freshman. That changed a bit last year when he moved to quarterback out of necessity. Martin still got plenty of carries out of the Wing-T offense, but is happy to once again be at his featured position.
“He loves it,” Stinson said. “He embraces it. He will play position where he’s needed. He’s a four-year starter that played two years at running back. We needed him at quarterback last year, but now we have a couple other quarterbacks. Dan is still getting reps at quarterback for certain plays, but he loves being back there.”
- The quarterback competition: With Martin back to his old home, a spot has emerged at quarterback and senior Dasheem Sanders and Mark Gillis have both showed promise in that role during the preseason. Since the Wing-T offense does not feature a heavy amount of passing, arm strength and accuracy are only part of the equation. Factors such as running the offense, pitch the ball at the right time and accepting the snap smoothly are all being considered.
“It’s about consistency—being able to throw the ball, having good command of the offense, reading the keys and being able to run the plays,” Stinson said.
- The new schedule: Highland has moved to the Diamond Division of the West Jersey Football League, which matches them up against schools of similar size. The move should help the Tartans be much more competitive, but it hardly means that things will be easy. Highland is slated to face six
teams that were in the playoffs a year ago, including Glassboro, Delsea and Pennsville.
- Depth at running back: Martin will be the clear No. 1 option out of the backfield, but look for five or six other Tartans to also see some touches this season. Although the team is thin on depth at several positions, Stinson feels like his team is set up for success at the running back position. As often as backs get dinged up, this is a huge plus for the team. How well some of the younger backs perform over the next couple of weeks will determine which ones see the field for the opener.