August 26, 2014 3:31:51 PM
Barrett Donahoe's magic number is 28.
Odds are the success of the Heritage Academy football team this season will be predicated on Donahoe's good fortune to keep 28 players healthy and contributing to the Patriots' efforts into November.
But Donahoe has been coaching football long enough to know good fortune and injuries don't go hand in hand, especially when you consider Heritage Academy begins a string of 11 games in 11 weeks at 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to West Lowndes in its home opener.
Donahoe and his coaches addressed that topic Sunday in their coaches meeting following a 32-26 loss to Caledonia on Thursday in their season opener.
"We have a lot of young guys who haven't played who are going to have play in spots," Donahoe said. "To stay healthy for an entire season, we're going to have to have guys like Brandon Jones, Jones Ray, Jeb Brown, and some of the guys who didn't get a lot of action the other night, we're going to have to have them get playing time in sports to get other guys off the field."
Donahoe also mentioned Jack Hannon, Dylan Hughes, and Cason Westmoreland as guys he and the other coaches have to find spots they can be productive to give other key performers a break. Against Caledonia, Heritage Academy used several key players on offense and on defense. As a result, the Confederates, a Class 4A school in the Mississippi High School Activities Association, used their superior depth (more than 60 players) to wear the Patriots down, particularly up front.
In watching the film from the Caledonia game, Donahoe said the Patriots can't afford to have players like Cayden Upton, who is a running back and a defensive end, and Thomas Cooper, who is an offensive lineman and a linebacker, play 120 snaps every week. He said the Patriots likely won't be able to keep very many players healthy doing that with a packed schedule and against physical competition in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools.
To compete, Donahoe said younger players will have to be "role players" and accept their roles to make the team better. In this case, though, the term "role player" is more important for the Patriots. Often times, the term is used to define a smaller, sometimes less important, part an individual plays in the team's success. In this case, with only 28 players, Heritage Academy will need all of its 28 players to contribute to help everyone survive.
"You go through seasons when you stay healthy and you have depth when you probably have guys who are ready to get on the field who don't get a lot of playing time because guys are a little ahead of them, they stay healthy, and they have good seasons," Donahoe said. "We have seen that the last couple of years. This year, we are completely opposite. We have guys not that they can't be successful, but they don't have the experience to be 100 percent ready when they walk out there every Friday night right now. They're going to have to get quality time this year."
Donahoe said Thursday his goal was to incorporate more offensive sets to get more individuals involved. He feels the Patriots have plenty of weapons with Upton, Michael Ledbetter, and Mattox Heredia as options at running back, Dylan Barker and Tyler Anderson at quarterback, and Hunter Sykes and Walker Brown at wide receiver. However, the reality is many of those seven players also are seeing a lot of snaps on defense, which means it's imperative for other players to emerge and bring another dimension to the Patriots' attack.
Donahoe also hopes to use Barker, a junior, and Anderson, a sophomore, on the field at the same time more in the coming weeks. He said in the preseason that both players were competing for playing time at quarterback. Barker logged a majority of the snaps against Caledonia and played well, Donahoe said. He said Heritage Academy didn't use both quarterbacks on the field at the same time against Caledonia, but he hopes non-district games against West Lowndes and Winston Academy will help prepare them for later in the season.
"We knew were going to have growing pains," Donahoe said. "We were expecting the growing pains to be frequent, but, at the same time, we have three non-conference games to open the season and a lot of snaps on the field we could get guys in and play and find our mold before we get to our division games. ... Over the next three weeks, we really have to work on overall fundamentals of execution of our offensive schemes, getting more guys involved in the game plan, get guys off the field for a number of plays to stay healthy and to be able to withstand the rigors of the game and the heat. We have to get those guys out of there and get them rest."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.