Chapter Five covers the Aledo Bearcats. 2012 turned out to be a “down” year for Aledo. Running back Jonathon Gray had led the Bearcats to three straight titles, but he was now playing for the Texas Longhorns in Austin. As great as Gray was though, crediting him for the Bearcats’ success forgets the system Tim Buchanan put in place. This selection describes practice organization at Aledo.
…This week I have to get up early: The Bearcats do most of their practicing in the morning. Before sunrise, I drive west on Interstate 30 from my motel in Fort Worth. Lucky for me, I avoid most of the Metroplex traffic; it’s headed the other way at this hour. It’s still dark as I pull up to the Aledo fieldhouse.
Practice at Aledo starts at 7:20. With athletic period being scheduled during first period, this gives the Bearcats almost two hours before they have to hit the showers and get ready for class. They started holding early practice a few years ago when they moved to the new artificial turf stadium. They no longer had to worry about morning dew on their practice field ruining footballs.
Practicing in the morning has several advantages. The Bearcats don’t worry about early season heat. Even on the hottest days, it’s pleasant at this hour. This schedule also gives the program flexibility on how they use their afterschool time; lifting, watching game and practice film, working on special teams and polishing rough spots are done after school without the pressure of the clock. After school is also the time for the sub-varsity to work. The freshmen don’t go during the morning and after school the two fulltime freshman coaches are helped by some of the varsity/JV staff.
Football practices often take on the personality of the head coach, and this is true at Aledo. Buchanan doesn’t come across as very emotional. He’s professional and relaxed and this is the vibe of mornings at Bearcat Stadium. The atmosphere is different here than anywhere else I’ve watched practice. Position groups stretch in little circles around their coaches while the coaches cover details of the game plan or general coaching points. The defensive groups are on the far half of the field while the offense is closer to the fieldhouse. Buchanan strolls from group to group, an insulated coffee cup in hand, checking attendance. Aledo is one of two programs I cover which practices to music. During the morning stretch the songs are soft and mellow, the type of music you’d like to wake up to. With the sun rising over the far end zone, the feeling is relaxed and loose as the buzzer sounds marking the start of the first timed segment at 7:35.
The morning is meticulously scheduled. On the offensive side, nine minutes are assigned for individuals, a two minute water break, outside hull for nine minutes, two minute water, then inside team for nine, another 12 minute team session, eight minutes of red zone and 10 minutes of crossover, letting the few defensive players who may contribute on offense work on their skills. To mark the time, the scoreboard has been programmed to countdown each segment, with a buzzer at the end of each.
Aledo has very good numbers. Between 180 and 240 kids from freshmen through varsity play football in this school of 1,344 students. This morning about 120 are on the field. Varsity players wear white jerseys and have orange Aledo “A”’s on their helmets and four small Texas outlines denoting Bearcats state championships, the JV kids are in black jerseys and have no helmet decals. During inside run, the varsity is able to run two separate offensive units vs. two JV defensive scout teams. On the other side of the 50 yard line, at the same time, the starting defense works against two JV offensive groups. One offense runs a play while the other huddles and reads the next play from a binder held by one of the coaches. The huge number of JV players running two huddles let the varsity starters get a lot of reps in a short time.
Stationed around the field are 12 student-trainers with caddies of six water bottles for the players. Above the field, in front of the pressbox, two other students film the activities, one focused on the offensive end of the field and one on the defense.
On the track, the basketball and cross country teams go through their own workouts with their coaches. Aledo, like all larger schools, has separate athletic periods for each sport.
Buchanan doesn’t coach a position, but roams the field, walking between the offense and defense, watching drills and occasionally pulling a player out to talk to him. He also plays a little scout quarterback for the second JV huddle.
The relaxed atmosphere slowly becomes more intense as the morning moves along. The music gets faster and the pace quickens. Any teacher knows kids tend to be more focused during the morning hours than later in the day; this is another benefit to Aledo’s system. This morning, the intensity never turns to screwing around at the end of the day or sluggishness in the hot sun.
At 9:02, Buchanan gathers the team, says a few words about what to expect this week and everyone runs off to the showers to get ready for the school day. Yes, the kids actually do shower, something rarely seen with kids who go home after practice instead of to classes. In the coaches’ office, the same rush is going on. Coaches quickly change from coaching gear into school clothes and head across the parking lot to teach their second period classes.
At 3:00, the players and coaches wander back to the fieldhouse. Today the team’s spread among different offices with their individual coaches watching practice film from this morning. I go over and watch a little of the freshmen practice, about 60 players with three full-time freshman coaches and three varsity coaches who went over to help out. After watching film for half an hour, the varsity squad goes to the game field for special teams and the JV goes to the weight room to lift. Buchanan runs the varsity through a special team practice while Bishop works behind the end zone with the offensive line, going over blocking assignments. Finally, the varsity is off to the weight room. The JV finishes on the indoor field and works on its offense and defense. Monday’s lifting workout is four sets of six squats, bench press and incline and four sets of five hang cleans. This is a little heavier than most places I’ve been. Most places focus on more high rep/ low weight lifting during the season. The workout ends around 5:25 and finally Monday is over.
The motto on this season’s program and practice gear is ‘Reload Mode’. After losing a player like Jonathon Gray, who led the Bearcats to three straight state titles, this motto only makes sense, but people forget just how much of a team sport football is. This mindset also forgets that the system that encouraged Gray to come to Aledo had begun years before Gray arrived…