August 20, 2013 10:27:27 AM
Barrett Donahoe knows his team's offense will be a work in progress this season.
Not only does the Heritage Academy football team have to replace senior quarterback Cade Lott, it also has to find playmakers to fill the void left by the graduation of Hudson Bean, Parker Dunaway, and Miller Puckett.
But Donahoe saw all he needed to Friday night to feel confident his offense is in good hands with senior Austin Fitch.
Granted, Fitch is back playing football for the first time since his ninth-grade year, but Donahoe feels the senior has the presence and confidence to help the Patriots build on their 2012 Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II state title.
"Of all of the things we did at the jamboree (a 14-0 victory against Winston Academy), the one thing I was most pleased about than anything was how comfortable he looked on the football field," Donahoe said. "We knew from a physical standpoint and an athletic standpoint that he was going to be OK. He is smart, he is coachable, he is a perfectionist. He strives to do the right things, so we knew he would be able to take that role and relish in it. Our biggest fear was when we put the pads on and get out there everything gets so fast and what is his reaction going to be. It was flawless. Could we have done some things better? Of course. But that is not because of his poise or his personality on the field. He made good decisions, he threw good balls, he controlled the huddle, and he controlled the offense. The only way I can describe it is he looked at home out there on the field. That is very pleasing to see."
Fitch will take his first snaps of the season at 7 p.m. Thursday when Heritage Academy plays Mississippi High School Activities Association member Caledonia in the first of two Lowndes County showdowns to open the season. Next weekend, Heritage Academy will play at West Lowndes. The public school opponents figure to provide good challenges for Fitch, a standout member of the school's boys golf team, to solidify his hold on the team and to help the Patriots build on a five-game winning streak that carried them to the championship a year ago.
Fitch said there was a lot to learn and to process initially, but he used the offseason to get comfortable with the team and to understand his role. By the time he took the field against Winston Academy, he felt ready.
"It has been a while, but doing it before got me back in the groove," Fitch said. "I knew I was capable of being comfortable in the pocket and doing things right. It gave me a lot of confidence to know I was there before and that I was back again."
Despite suffering key graduation losses, Donahoe feels this year's team can be similar to the 2012 squad in that it has multiple players who can make big plays. His hope is Fitch puts the Patriots into those positions. He understands Fitch still will have to adjust to making reads and to processing things quicker after the snap, but he believes the timing will come with more repetitions. He also is confident Fitch won't try to do too much too quickly to live up the 2012 team.
"We're not simplifying anything for him because of his newness or his lack of experience, but what we have done is give him a very detailed outline of what we need him to do to be successful on Friday night."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.