Gryphons' confidence soars in preseason camp
What a difference a year makes. During the 2012 camp season, coach Jerry Cash was trying to convince the Thomas Jefferson Gryphons that they could win. After a 6-6 season and the program’s first playoff appearance, TJCA has learned that lesson well.
“We expect to win every time we step on the field,” said senior wide receiver Efrim Borders during a recent practice. “We want to go undefeated. Everybody believes it and we are working toward that goal.”
While Cash is pleased with his team’s attitude, he does caution against overconfidence.
“Everybody’s excited about playing this year,” Cash said. “It’s totally different than last year when we went into a game hoping we could win. Now we expect to win, but we have to be careful not to neglect the fundamentals like blocking and tackling. That’s why we are out here right now.”
In order to improve these most basic aspects of football, Cash has his charges participate in a series of high intensity drills.
“We are just trying to get them used to football again,” said Cash. “If we can take care of the fundamentals now, that’s one less thing we have to worry about when mandatory practice starts August first. We are also putting in some new offensive plays now, so we don’t have to start from square one right before the season.”
TJCA should enjoy a record number of players once the season starts, but not all of them are able to attend the optional practices.
“We have about 35 players out here now and we have about eight or so away on vacation,” said Cash. “They are called optional practices for a reason. They are very important, but I’m not going to punish a kid for going on vacation with his family. We do let the players have their name on a jersey if they come to 20 practices and the kids respond well to that, but I think it takes some of the pressure off them knowing if they have to be away, they can be.”
The players who are at camp can barely contain their enthusiasm.
“Man, I’m so ready to go,” said senior wide receiver Joseph Bradshaw. “I know I’m not good enough to play at the next level, so this the last time I will ever play football. I want to leave everything on the field, not just in games but for every practice.”
That enthusiasm has carried over to the younger players thanks to Bradshaw and fellow seniors Borders and Chris Mintz, who have filled leadership roles for 2013.
“We had to step up and be leaders this year,” said Borders. “We feel like we should win every game and if we believe it, the young guys will too.”
On paper, it looks as if the Gyrphons might indeed run the table. Due to realignment, they now compete in a conference of all 1A programs and no longer have to face daunting three hour road trips.
“The schedule is more favorable,” said Cash. “We play schools that are more our size and on our level. Plus we can cut down on some travel time which will help. I think we can be successful this season, but we can’t take anything for granted right now.”
While the schedule may be softer than in previous seasons, TJCA does face some tough challenges. Four year starters, Will McCraw (RB) and Mac Martin (QB), who accounted for well over 3000 combined yards in 2012, have graduated, leaving a big hole in the Gryphons offense. But that does not worry Borders.
“Not having Mac and Will is tough,” he said. “But there is going to be another Martin under center (Mason) and a McCraw (Seth) in the backfield this year. They are very good players, too. I think we will be fine.”
If McCraw and Martin do follow in their brothers’ footsteps, coupled with the senior leadership of Borders among others, a successful season could be on the horizon. Whether that translates into an undefeated season remains to be seen. “But the Gryphons have no doubt it will happen.
“We believe,” said Borders. “And by the end of the year everybody else will too.”