With a hot rod car as its mascot and checkered flags adorning the bleachers, it seems only fitting that speed is the new watchword with the LaFayette High School football team.
Everything the Ramblers have done or will do on the field this season has been sped up, including the team’s annual Picture Day, which was completed an under an hour.
For new head coach Chad Fisher, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I hate standing around and just going through the motions,” Fisher lamented, “so our focus is to play fast as we can. It will be the nature of our offense and defense to go as fast as we can and get as many plays as possible.”
The up-tempo style has become the fashion du jour for college football offenses, and even some NFL teams are starting to adapt to the style, which is designed to keep defenses off-balance and eventually wear them down.
Fisher said his roots with the system took hold out of necessity following a tough first year as head coach at Gordon Central High School.
Following an 0-10 season (2007) that saw his team only average three points per game, Fisher and his staff attended a spread offense clinic taught by Tony Franklin, who gained fame by innovating the offense while at the University of Kentucky more than a decade ago.
“That first team (at Central) was having trouble moving the ball and scoring, so we put our heads together and decided to attend Franklin’s clinic and the rest is history," Fisher said. "It was one of the best camps we’d ever been to as a staff and we go back every year.
“It’s really worked out for us. It gives us a chance to create mismatches against the defense because they have to play fast too, and it’s not really something you can simulate in practice if you aren’t used to it.”
The numbers speak for themselves.
After the winless season, Fisher's next GC squad put up 24 points game and continued to put big totals over the next five seasons. His 2010 team averaged 34 points a game, and last season, the Warriors’ 38 points per game average made them one of the highest scoring teams in all of Class AAA.
Not surprisingly, the points per game weren’t the only numbers on the upswing. Four of Fisher's final five teams at Central finished .500 or better with the Warriors advancing to the state playoffs in 2011 and 2012. Their eight victories last fall was tied for the second-most in the program’s history.
He says his new team is catching on to the complexities of the offense at a faster rate than he expected.
“Overall, the guys are picking it up very well,” he said. “We’ve actually advanced a little farther than I thought we would be at this point. They’ve really come a long way since spring practice. We still aren’t playing or practicing as fast as I want them too, but we are getting there a lot faster now than we were a few months back.”
Any offense needs a triggerman to run it and senior Lance Estus has been tabbed to direct the Ramblers’ new spread attack. Estus, a basketball standout, is back on the football field after nearly three years away from the game.
“Like I’ve told him, playing this position in this offense is liking running a 3-on-1 fast break in basketball,” Fisher said. “There are still some technique things he needs to work on, but he’s starting to see the game like we need him to see it and he’s picking up a lot of things well. He’s been a nice addition to our team and he’ll help us a lot if we can protect him.”
Senior Clayton Underwood, junior Evan Head, and sophomore Conner Green have been taking snaps in a back-up role.
Underwood will see most of his time lined up at receiver, along with fellow seniors Hunter Clark, Cameron Marsh, and Curt Jones, and junior Ethan Tripp. Clark came on strong late last season to lead LaFayette with 288 yards and four touchdowns on just 12 catches.
Senior Dylan Queen and sophomore Josh Neal will add depth off the bench.
Junior Kolbe Mosley is the team’s leading returning rusher, but he had less than 150 yards on the ground while backing up the graduated Cody Dallas. Senior Tracy Miller, a transfer from Ridgeland, will also see significant action in the backfield, while junior Andrew Burse and sophomore T.J. Hawkins will provide depth.
In the trenches, an all-senior line of Ty Ferguson, Zack Jones, Kaemdenne Stoker, Chase Davidson, and Mathew Mathis will provide protection for Estus and teammates, while sophomores Logan Suggs and Logan Wattenbarger will be two of the first reserves into the rotation. Senior tight end Taylor Parris has college size and potential and will see passes thrown his way as well.
“The offense is starting to gel,” Fisher explained. “We still have some fine-tuning to do, but they are all doing a good job of working well together.”
On defense, Parris, Davidson, and Wattenbarger, along with Suggs and Stoker, will hold down the fort in the three-man front, while senior Sam Lemons brings plenty of experience to the linebacker position.
Lemons, who will be a three-year starter, has been one of the Ramblers’ top tacklers for the past two seasons. He finished the 2012 season with 102 solo stops, 55 assists, and five for loss.
Senior Michael Sartin and sophomores Clayton Lane and Adam Ellisor will add more skill and strength to the position.
Miller, Tripp, Mosley, and Burse are penciled in as starters at defensive back with Hawkins, Marsh, seniors Dre Miller and Travis Gray, and sophomore Juston Elrod providing additional depth.
“Play fast and arrive ticked off when you get to the ball,” Fisher said of his philosophy on defense. “It’s all about giving effort. We want to put as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks and offensive linemen as we can so they don’t know where it’s coming from. The guys really seem to like this style."
Queen, a veteran and soccer standout, will handling placekicking and kick-off chores, while Underwood will likely be the team’s punter.
Fisher believes that having veterans on the offensive and defensive lines gives his team strength at those positions, but admits his team needs to build overall depth to help compete in 7-AAAA.
“It’s all about being consistent and gaining confidence,” he added. “We just need the kids to execute at 100 percent, keep buying in and keep working. There’s a lot of talent here. We just have to tap into it.”
The new LaFayette coach added that he sees a lot of similarities between his situation at Central and where he stands now with the Ramblers.
“Both teams had struggled the previous year before I arrived, but both groups of kids seemed to be very excited to work,” he explained. “The thing I’ve noticed with just bunch (at LaFayette) is that they are very eager to learn and they have a fantastic work ethic.
“They also have a fantastic support system here, and that was one of the things we looked at as a family before coming here. Everything we have seen and felt since we moved up here has been absolutely phenomenal. The kids just have to keep staying the course and keep working.
"As a family, as a coaching staff, and as a team, we feel everything is on the rise here in LaFayette.”