By Mike Bruu, TSB Sports Writer
Let’s say your favorite players on the McKinney North football team is a wide receiver. You just love to see him running routes and making plays. But when the offense is off the field, you just wish this guy would somehow play cornerback or safety, just so he could use his speed and athleticism to help there, too.
If this is your thought process, you are right in line with Bulldogs head coach Mike Fecci.
Every player on the 2012 Bulldog football team will be given two positions, one on offense and one on defense. Every year teams around the state use this tactic on a couple of very gifted and highly skilled athletes, but very rarely do you see coaches issue this tactic team-wide. So, why would you go into this season with this strategy?
“When we sat down and we really looked at what we had, we felt like we needed to increase some depth in some areas,” Fecci said. … “Sometimes you have to look across to the other side. Logistically it’s just much easier to say that everybody has got two spots. Everybody plays an offensive spot and everybody plays a defensive spot. Now somebody may never play that spot in a game, but they’re going to work at it.”
One of the biggest two-way players North has is senior wide receiver and safety Evan Jones. Jones, a 6-foot-1-inch, 190-pound athlete, is one of the few players on the team that is a starter on both sides of the ball. While Jones is dealing with a back injury that could sideline him for a couple months, he is regarded as a leader on this football team. When on the field, he will be counted on to make plays, regardless of which position he is at.
When asked how difficult it is for players to accept this strategy, he says his teammates just have to accept it and embrace it.
“I don’t think it’s more difficult,” said Jones. “I just think they have to accept it. I accepted it because it means more playing time and you have more chances to get in the game. They just have to be mentally ready for it, but it pushes everybody and gets everybody better.”
Even starting quarterback Ben Dutze, who won’t be asked to do a whole lot on the defensive side of the ball, is all in on this two-way system.
“We accept it. It’s awesome for us,” Dutze said. “We accept it with open arms and we aren’t going to get tired.”
Fecci and the rest of his staff plan on developing their players with a different outlook on practice. Instead of having a ton of individual drills during a workout, the varsity will work on one side of the field and the JV will work on the other. Not only that, but the varsity will start on offense while the JV works on defense, and the sides will flip-flop after about eight periods of work. While this does cut down on individual drills with positions, this gives the opportunity for each side of the ball, regardless of varsity or JV, to work with the varsity coordinators personally.
The Bulldogs did not work the two-way system a year ago, when the team finished with a record of 6-5 and made a playoff appearance versus Frisco Centennial. North lost the bi-district game, 45-16, but the team proved a lot of critics wrong by winning three of its final four games of the season and grabbing one of the four playoff spots. For a district that included Highland Park, Rockwall-Heath, and both Wylie schools, getting into the playoffs was viewed as a tremendous accomplishment by many around the area.
With the realignment this past spring, McKinney North finds itself the lone 4A school left in the city, residing in District 13-4A along with both Wylie schools, Sherman, Lucas Lovejoy, Denison, Royse City, and Greenville. And while the competition is sure to be intense, the Bulldogs are regarded as one of the big dogs in the district, as the school will have the largest enrollment out of any campus.
“It’s an exciting deal because we are going to get to play folks these kids have never played,” said Fecci. “We have to guard against what other people say. Truth be known, we had to guard against that before when they said `You guys are in the district with Highland Park, Rockwall-Heath, J.J. Pearce, so you guys aren’t going to make the playoffs.’ We had to guard against that and go do our own thing.
“Now we have to guard against people saying, `You guys are the biggest school in the district and most polls out there predict you guys are going to make the playoffs.’ We can’t listen to that just like we didn’t listen to it last year, we can’t listen to it now. But overall that is what scares me is, can we handle the small amount of success.”
While Fecci may be guarding against too much district championship talk right now, Jones and the rest of his teammates sure don’t mind the lofty expectations.
“Obviously our goal is to win district,” said Jones. “I think we can really compete with a lot of good teams in this district, like the Wylie schools and Sherman. But I think we can legitimately compete for the district championship this year.”
“It’s a lot of new teams,” said senior running back and linebacker Anthony Lozoya. “We haven’t really seen them or know them as much as some of the others. We were in a really tough district the last two years so we feel like this district can’t be much harder than what we were in before.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs will look conceptually the same as in past years. They will continue to run a lot of inside and outside zone reads, some different counters, and rely on quick and intermediate passes to move the ball down the field. Their biggest weapon will be junior running back Trey Smith, who ran for 560 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2011. Smith, the 5-8, 180-pound back, possess a 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash speed and has great vision in traffic. Smith will be following the blocking of returning all-district lineman Austin Horton, the 6-4, 265-pound player who is already attracting several collegiate scouts in practice. Horton is very athletic on his feet but also has a ton of strength to be the main cog in the North offensive line.
But with every quarterback change comes the attention and questions with it, and so is the case with junior Ben Dutze. Dutze has been in the system for two years and was the backup to Hunter Walling a season ago. While a lot of coaches around the district don’t know too much about this kid yet, sitting down with him for five minutes will tell you all you need to know about what kind of quarterback and leader he will be this season.
“The thing that I am most excited about with Ben is the kind of leader he is going to be for us,” said Fecci. “He is a quality individual and a stand-up kid that comes from a stand-up family. He is a competitive sucker that doesn’t want to lose in anything, and those two attributes are the two things you can’t measure on any kind of chart when you are looking for a quarterback.”
While there are obviously some question marks going into the season with just how much they can put on Dutze’s shoulders, the biggest isn’t really anything physical, but rather, how he will handle the pressure that comes with being a starting quarterback on a Texas high school football team.
“This is all new to him and that’s going to be the key there,” said Fecci. “Of course, being a quarterback in our system for his entire career, that’s all stuff that (quarterback) coach Walker has been talking to him about since day one about how you handle all this stuff. How you handle that pressure and how you handle when the publicity starts coming, good or bad. But we think Ben is going to do just fine. We are excited about him.”
On defense, the Bulldogs will have a bit of a culture change with new defensive coordinator Billy Thompson. Thompson was an assistant at Lovejoy High School last season and will bring his style of coaching up north this fall.
“Thompson is real methodical and one of the smartest guys that I have ever been around, and I don’t mean just on the board but I mean in general in life,” said Fecci. “The guy reads a lot of books that aren’t just about football, so the guy is very, very smart.”
The rest of the position coaches remain in tact and the team will continue to run the 4-2-5 defensive concept. The only difference that Thompson will bring is a difference in technique and a variation of the verbage in the scheme. However, the goals of running to the football, being great tacklers, and emphasizing turnovers, are still the main focus of the Bulldogs on defense.
“We’ve always been good at run stopping,” said Lozoya. “We are trying to fly to the ball, tackle with authority, and always be aggressive. Those are our main goals this year.”
When touring the halls of the athletic facilities at North, one of the main objects on the wall is the Game Goal board by the football coach’s office. The board has a list of various goals that are all team-oriented, from limiting the opposing offenses’ total yards to hitting a certain percentage of third down conversions on offense. But the biggest goal and the one at the very top of the list is pretty simple: win the game. When asked what the point of the Game Goal board is, Fecci says that it gives his kids something visual to know what they are trying to achieve week in and week out.
“You have to give your kids something and yourself something visual to aim at,” he said. “Kids need to know what we are aiming for and we think that’s really important. We think if we can accomplish those things on the board, we should be able to win. The top goal is win, because you can get the rest of the goals but not get the top one and nobody is going to care. If you get the top one and none of the other ones, everyone is happy. But you give them something to aim at and something to shoot for so they have an idea of what we are trying to get done here.”
While the Game Goal board is certainly used to keep their players eyes on the overall prize, Fecci hopes that it also serves as a way for kids to further understand the game of football. He believes this is something that young players today don’t quite understand anymore, something that is contributed to what he calls the “reset” generation.
“Kids don’t understand the game,” Fecci said. “They don’t understand the concept of the game and the importance of certain situations. I contribute that a lot to what I like to call the ‘reset’ generation. What I mean by that is that they grow up playing ‘Madden’ and if they are like my son, who is 9, when they are playing and they make a mistake and gets his butt beat on a play, he presses reset and starts over. They kind of think that’s what football is and they bring that in here and you have to tell them that there is no reset, baby. When you are playing, you have to have a plan.”
The Bulldogs will begin their season Aug. 30 at Carrollton Newman Smith, and while getting off to a good start in non-district play is important, Fecci and his players have a certain time of the year they hope to be peaking at.
“We focus real hard on weeks 7-8-9,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who we are playing, we focus on those three weeks because we feel like that is when you set yourself up for week 10. Week 10 you either want to be in the playoffs or playing for a spot. It is that middle of the schedule that we want to set ourselves up for a good run.”
That means that Wylie, Greenville, and Wyle East will be the opponents in which North hopes they are playing its best football, with that finale at home versus Denison being a game in which the Bulldogs secure a playoff berth. After a season that saw a surprising playoff appearance, the hype around the Bulldogs suggests that missing the postseason would be a massive disappointment. And while the district championship talk is an easy trap to fall into, the Bulldogs are focused on just making it back into the playoffs and will approach the other talk when the time comes.
“I think each year that you obtain a goal you have to reset your goals,” said Fecci. “Our main goal is to get back in the playoffs and our number two goal is to win a district title. It was not something that we talked about last year because we felt like we had to get back into the playoffs. Now that we’ve done that we expect to get back there again.”
But what about that district championship, Coach?
“The reason why we want to win that district title is because it has never been done here before in football,” he said. “We tell our kids all the time to aim for something that has never been done here.”
Quote of the Camp:
“I’m excited for it. Can’t wait.”
– Ben Dutze, regarding his excitement for the upcoming season.
Mike’s 3 Observations From Bulldog Camp:
1. I felt like I was Dutze’s number one enemy when I called him out of practice for two minutes to answer a couple of questions. The kid loves football and loves to be around his teammates, and I have a feeling that his teammates will take on his work ethic and enthusiasm for the game in no time.
2. After attending every camp around town, North definitely had the fastest pace of all three. Every player was staying active in some way and there was a sense of urgency about the players to get better in every rep.
3. Coaches tell players to run through the whistle all the time, but the Bulldogs do it better than I saw all week. Receivers run at least 30 yards up field after every reception, and defensive players run to the ball like they were all on fire. You can get the feeling that the Bulldogs have something cooking in 2012.
2012 McKinney North Schedule
@ Carrollton Newman Smith – August 30th
vs. Prosper – September 7th
vs. Frisco Centennial – September 14th
@ Sherman – September 28th
vs. Royse City – October 5th
@ Lovejoy – October 12th
vs. Wylie – October 19th
@ Greenville – October 26th
@ Wylie East – November 2nd
vs. Denison – November 8th
Bold represents District 13-4A games. All home games are at Ron Poe Stadium. Every game begins at 7:30 p.m.
Editor’s Note: This is the last in a three-part series previewing MISD varsity football for the upcoming 2012 season. If you missed part 1 on McKinney Boyd, please click here to see it. If you missed part 2 on McKinney High, please click here to see it.