Poland players practice tackling during the preseason. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)
POLAND — Things are louder and looser at Poland football practices this season under new head coach Spencer Emerson.
“There’s just a lot more excitement in general,” senior linebacker/running back Tyler Tucci said. “Last year, guys were just, ‘Oh, we have football practice today.’ This year, it’s, ‘Wow, we can’t wait. When’s the next practice?'”
Once they get to practice, players temper their enthusiasm at their own risk. Playing fast is one of the Knights’ biggest themes, which means they want to practice fast, too.
“We’re trying to play fast and compete,” Emerson said.
“Everything is really uptempo,” junior quarterback Brady Downing said. “Playing fast for us is going to be we’re not taking 30 seconds between plays. We’re going, we’re going. We’re taking control of the game. We’re not letting the defense take control of us.”
Having an experienced backfield with Downing, Tucci and senior running back Gawain Tibbetts should help the Knights keep the pedal to the metal in Poland’s spread offense. The last thing Emerson wants is for all of the speed he has on both sides of the ball to get bogged down by second-guessing.
“We want to minimize the complexity of some of the schemes we use to get guys playing fast and get guys confident in the scheme so they don’t have to think as much and can cut loose and play,” Emerson said.
“He’s just putting us in positions to do what we do best,” Tucci said. “On defense, he wants us to react and play. On offense, he wants to get skill players the ball in positions where they can be fast and use their talents. Instead of trying to force players into a system, he’s adapting the system to us.”
Emerson successfully adapted a speedy Lewiston defense into a formidable unit as defensive coordinator last year, and has also drawn from stints at Bates and University of Maine to run his own program for the first time.
The Knights will be smaller than most of their opponents but nevertheless geared to stop the run. The players are confident they will allow much less than the 34.5 points per game opponents put up on them last year.
“We have a lot of high-IQ players who have played a lot more football compared to past years,” Tucci said. “We’re just going to use our experience and the techniques the coaches are bringing to us.”
“We’re confident in our ability to get them ready, it’s just a matter of tying it all together,” Emerson said. “You install stuff in preseason, then you modify it in scrimmage and expand a little bit and by week one (of the regular season) be ready to hit the ground running. And we have kids that have really bought in.”
For all of the energy and enthusiasm, Emerson doesn’t want his players to get ahead of themselves, either.
“We can play fast, but our minds have to be slowed down,” he said. “Physical mistakes … I can live with those. Mental mistakes, that’s a problem.”
Poland players go through a workout during a preseason practice. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)Poland player work on technique during a preseason practice. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)A Poland player practices tackling technique during a preseason practice. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)