MOUNT VERNON — No one has been more frustrated than Mount Vernon High School head football coach Gary Keller in the last two seasons. Keller, however, has never given up in his endeavors to make the Yellow Jackets the best they can be.
As the preseason is under way, Keller feels good about his team and the improvement that has been made during the offseason. His players have worked hard to make themselves bigger, faster and stronger, and Keller has implement some new tactics, including taking the team to a couple of 7-on-7 camps this summer.
“I think our 7-on-7 camps went pretty good,” said Keller. “I think the first time is was more of learning what it was all about. The second time, we made improvement, but that is going to be natural. It takes time for the kids to understand what is going on; it is the nature of what’s actually happening here. This is the first time we’ve went to these. I think the kids responded pretty well. They did a fairly good job picking up the kind of things we are looking for.”
While the 7-on-7 camps gave the players some real-time situations, it didn’t provide a complete look at what they will face throughout the season. Keller is hoping that this first week of camp takes care of that.
“Seven-on-7 is not realistic football,” Keller said. “Every play is a passing play; teams are coming out in empty sets and they are throwing the ball all over, but I think seeing the ball coming out of the quarterback’s hand is a fundamental kind of thing. Offensively, you can try to get timing with your routes and see if your receivers can catch the football in traffic. That’s what I think is important.
“I think it gives the kids a sense of confidence, too, about themselves. It shows we can compete with teams, and do the kinds of things that we need to do in order to be successful.”
One of the positive influences during the offseason was the leadership shown by his senior class. They’ve taken ownership of the team and are helping the coaching staff get the job done.
“I think our seniors have been a real positive influence on our squad,” said Keller. “They have shown good leadership. They brought in our freshmen right into the family, and there hasn’t been any upper or lower class. This has been a good senior group, and I look for these guys to give us good solid leadership all through the year.”
Only two days into the preseason camp, Keller knows there is a lot of time left before the first ball is ever hiked. Even still, time will pass fast, which means each day is a great opportunity.
“I think the fundamentals are coming, but it is going to take some time,” Keller said. “It takes a long time to work things in to the point you are good at doing something. I think we, as a coaching staff, want to stay positive with our young men and try to show them what they need to do to be successful. We want to put them in positions where they can be successful, and give them the encouragement they need to execute the techniques we are teaching.
“It takes a lot of different kinds of things for a young man to come together. First, they have to have the courage to make the play. A lot of times that’s testing areas that they are unfamiliar with. We have to help them get to that level; we’ve got to push them. This is a great time to be a coach and it is a great time for them to learn and look forward to the season that is coming.”
For the first few days, the team is going over what is has learned in the offseason and at the camps. The players are chomping at the bit to start contact, though, and when the pads go on Saturday, Keller expects to see marked improvement.
“I don’t know how different things will be in a sense because we are lining up in the same spots and our reads are going to be the same,” said Keller. “It is just we are going to have pads on and we will be able to step through and do some more physical things. Hopefully, what we are doing is laying the foundation so that when we get our pads on, all we are doing is finishing the plays. Right now, we’re not finishing because we don’t have pads on. Hopefully, by finishing, we will be able to execute.”
One thing the team has done in the offseason is get involved in the community. The coaches and parents have encouraged the team to reach out to the community through various endeavors, and Keller hopes that gesture will be returned on Friday nights.
“Community involvement is extremely important,” said Keller. “For the city of Mount Vernon, we want to be the class. We want to be a class act for the city, and we want the city to be proud of the team we put out there on the field. We also want to be a positive influence in the community. We want people to have very positive feelings when they look at our team.
“We’ve been asking for nothing but class from our team, and that’s what we’ve been getting. I’ve been pleased with the kind of things we’ve done in the community. I’m just looking forward to this season.”
Note: Keep up with the Mount Vernon football team online by going to www.jacketfootball.com.