CADDO — Second-year East Lawrence High football coach Ernie Ferguson likes what he is seeing from his players so far this preseason. But listening to him in practice in the Wednesday morning sun, one might think otherwise.
“Playing football for East Lawrence is more than just strapping on a uniform and saying you’re on the team,” Ferguson yelled at his 40 or so players during practice drills.
A few minutes later, Ferguson was quoting legendary football coaches Bobby Bowden and Lou Holtz to his sweating and tired players.
One thing new about the Eagles, who went 2-8 in 2011, is their mental approach to the game.
“Our attitude is better,” said senior running back Carrington Coffey.
“We know we need to win more games to make the playoffs. We had a lot of players show up at the summer workouts. That’s a good start.”
Ferguson says the team has more stability this preseason because he was able to install his practice technique and the players know what to expect from him.
“I can definitely see a change in attitude with this group,” he said. “Position by position we are quicker, and we have gotten stronger with our summer weight program. The guys have really bought into the lifting and running.
“We’re tons stronger now than we were this time last year.”
Senior offensive lineman Blake Hutto said he pushed himself harder this offseason than in past years.
But will the extra work yield more wins?
Class 4A Region 8 will have a new look with traditional power Deshler dropping to Class 3A and Ardmore moving to Region 7.
“It’s really a crapshoot as to who will win the region,” Ferguson said.
“All eight teams have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.
“And with the hard work our kids are putting in, there’s no reason why we can’t make the playoffs.”
East Lawrence lost eight starters, but brings back quarterback Terrence Deloney and the entire offensive line of five talented seniors.
The Eagles will operate the spread offense. Ferguson said it will be run first, pass second out of the shotgun formation.
“We’ve got quality kids at the skill positions, but we will go as far as our offensive line takes us,” Ferguson said. “Staying healthy on the offensive line will make a big difference in our season.”
Moving from guard to center this year is Joseph Bailey (5-foot-9, 250 pounds). He will be flanked by twin brothers Zeke Sherrell (6-0, 285) and Zach Sherrell (6-0, 310) at guard. The tackles are Hutto (5-11, 240) and Lee Brown (6-3, 225).
Zeke Sherrell sees Ferguson’s conditioning program as the key on offense.
“We’re better physically and we have more unity this year,” Sherrell said. “We’ve got to play better on both sides of the ball and we need to have the mindset that we are going to dominate when we take the field.”
As for Deloney (5-10, 205), who also stars on the basketball court, Ferguson said his quarterback has an unequalled competitive spirit. “He’s full of talent and just likes to compete. It doesn’t matter if it is football, basketball or Tiddly Winks, he thinks he can win.”
Deloney is drawing attention from some colleges, Ferguson said.
Defensively, Ferguson said his Eagles need to play as a team and stop the ball carrier.
“We will be tons more aggressive and do a better job of tackling,” Ferguson said.
He pointed to the linebacking group of Carrington Coffey, Levi Garner, Dakota Millwood and Brian Swain as the backbone of the defense.
“We’ve got a quick and aggressive group that will be counted on to make the stops,” Ferguson said.
The Eagles start the season Aug. 30 against county rival Lawrence County. But some players are thinking ahead to region play.
“I know we are rivals with Moulton and of course we want to beat them, but beating the region opponents is what will get us to the playoffs,” senior wide receiver Dustin Hooie said.
Ferguson has been preaching the same message.
“The non-region games are more for momentum than anything else,” the coach said. “Central (Sept. 7 at home) is our first region game. That’s when it begins to count.”
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