September 3, 2014 9:24:09 PM
56. 39. 76. 49.
Rest assured, those aren't lottery numbers Kris Pickle played on his arrival at New Hope High School. Those numbers also weren't ones Pickle wrote in capital letters on the dry erase boards in the New Hope High field house.
Instead, Pickle wanted to change the mind-set of a program and a defense that allowed pinball popping numbers en route to a 4-7 finish (2-5 in Class 5A, Region 1) in 2013.
Consider Pickle's first step a success.
"I can't take credit for it," Pickle said. "Coach (Josh) Polphus (the defensive coordinator) does a great job. Coach (Jon) Cates coaches the linebackers and coach (Nathan) Kendrick coached the defensive line. I don't fool with those guys much on defense. I kind of let them do their thing. That is what I hired them for, to coach defense.
"I think they have done a great job of stressing the importance of running to the football and kind of being nasty when you get there. I thought we tackled well Friday night. They got behind us a couple of times, but with the pressure we were able to put on (senior quarterback) Josh (Williams), it kind of made him feel a little bit uncomfortable back there."
Last week, New Hope opened the 2014 season in impressive fashion, beating Class 3A Aberdeen 35-8 in Monroe County. The Trojans held Williams to 95 yards passing and 19 yards rushing (on 10 carries) as part of an efficient effort that featured zero turnovers.
A Stone Sisson 50-yard touchdown pass to Bryson Ellis was the only eye-catching big play in a boxscore that featured plenty of contributors. That's the way Pickle hopes it will be at 7 p.m. Friday when New Hope plays host to Lowndes County rival Columbus.
The initial effort by the defense helped erase the memory of big losses in region play to Clarksdale, Oxford, West Point, and Saltillo. New Hope scored 50 points against West Point in the Nov. 1, 2013, loss, but it still lost by 26 points. Pickle hopes an experienced group on defense this season does its best to make sure the same thing doesn't happen again. Part of that might be maintaining a "nasty" disposition on defense.
"Coach Polphus has done a good job of creating a mind-set with those guys that they take pride enough in it that it means enough to them not to let the other guys score," Pickle said. "They hold themselves accountable. I don't think it is anything we did or preached to them. It is just to hold them accountable to what they are doing and to get them believing they could get people stopped.
"Last year, they had some games where they gave up some big points. I don't know what the problem was, but I think it is just a mind-set with the guys. The defensive coaches have done a great job getting them to buy in to the fact we have to get 11 guys to the ball."
Pickle, who was the head coach last season at Morton High, said New Hope is the first place he has coached that everybody wants to play defense. That could be a good start, especially with a new quarterback -- Sisson -- running the show and getting his feet under. Pickle said in the preseason he expects the defense to carry the load early in the season, but he was pleased with Sisson's performance.
"I think one word sums it all up. It was not explosive, it was efficient," Pickle said. "We will have our chance for explosive plays. They are not going to be every single play. That is not how we are designed. (Our goal is to) be efficient and drive the ball down the field and put us in position to score points."
New Hope did that last season with Brady Davis at quarterback, scoring 24 or more points five times. With Davis transferring to Starkville High, Pickle knew the Trojans would have to take care of the ball, not allow big plays on defense, and win the special teams game to give his offense time to find its rhythm.
While the first outing didn't match one of the big numbers it allowed last season, New Hope showed in week one that it could be primed to reverse its fortunes. Pickle highlighted the play of senior wide receiver Jeremy Newton and junior wide receiver Asher Bateman for their blocking on a night when they didn't catch very many passes.
"We talked about letting the game come to them," Pickle said. "The quarterback doesn't need to try to do too much when it is not there. We have a lot of options in our offense on every play. As long as he lets the game come to him and doesn't try to overdo it and doesn't try to to make something happen that isn't there, we will be fine. We will take 5 or 6 yards. The next one might be 20 yards.
"The biggest thing is those guys want to win. I don't think it is about who gets the most yards, who gets the most carries. It is about what the final result is. That is the hardest thing on offense because you only have one ball. You can only get it to so many folks. You have to have a bunch of unselfish guys on offense. If you don't you're going to have problems on offense."
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Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.