SIKESTON--Optimism is in high volume around the Sikeston Bulldog football program as they prepare to travel to Jackson to take on the Indians Friday night.
"I think our kids are optimistic," Sikeston head coach Kent Gibbs said. "You talk to them around school and there is a lot more optimism within our football program. The outlook of our kids that 'hey, we have a real shot at winning these games' is so much better. Our boys are excited to play and that just makes things a lot better."
The Bulldogs will come into the matchup riding a wave of momentum. The Bulldogs moved to a record of 2-1 with convincing victories over rivals Charleston and Dexter in the last two weeks.
Gibbs is trying to keep his optimism guarded.
"Long term what the good start does for us, I'm not sure," he said. "We started 2-1 last year and finished 2-8. The difference is we beat Dexter who we haven't beat in seven or eight years. We are excited. The kids are excited. They have responded to most of the things that we want them to do. We still lack some consistency though. We'll have a good practice, then a not so good one. So we are still fighting hard to get a good consistent work week in. If we can do that we're going to get better."
Gibbs feels that consistency in Sikeston's play is where the most work is still needed.
"I don't have one certain thing that I'm upset with on offense or defense," he said. "You have to look at problem spots where we have personnel issues or things that we are doing wrong schematically of course. But, I haven't been disappointed in any one major facet of our ballgame. Consistency is the name of our game in what we are trying to achieve."
Gibbs points to team unity as one of the major changes.
"I think the togetherness we have developed as a team through the winter and at the non-contact football camp we has really shone through," he said. "Our boys are genuinely excited about playing some of these schools on our schedule as opposed to last year where it was tough at times to get motivated. Thats been one of the biggest differences this year in the improvement of that."
Gibbs has been somewhat surprised at the steady play of his offensive and defensive lines.
"One of the things we felt that was going to be a weakness for us was our offensive and defensive lines," he said. "But we've had some kids come in there and play better than we may have expected. Bryan Armstrong at center and defensive tackle has been a good solid player for us up front. We've had Sam Gleason step in at guard and been very solid for us. We've also had some sophomores come in a step up for us on the lines as well."
Offensively, Sikeston looks to continue to attack the sidelines in the run and roll quarterback Charlie Bohannon out of the pocket to open the field up.
"We want to try and 'catch the edge,'" Gibbs said. "We want to get on the edge and run to the edge and make our cuts and reads from there. The rest of our offense is built around that. We have to attack the edge with our speed. By doing that we hope to utilize play fakes to open up our screen game, our downfield passing, and our inside running. We want to attack the edge and make people run sideways to catch us."
Gibbs sights Bohannon, running back Eli Jackson, tight end Jordan Williams, and wide receiver Niquavious Dixon as impact players on offense and keys to Sikeston's success.
Defensively, the Bulldogs look to continue to gain game experience and build toughness.
"Defensively we are still playing a lot of first year kids, kids that have never played before," Gibbs said. "So were a little behind the ball on that. We are playing a lot of young kids as well. Our main goal there has been to develop more mental and physical toughness and establish physical presence. We think that we have done that to some degree. Our strength is something I would like to see improve. We will continue to work on that. Last week we had three stops against Dexter. That's not necessarily a lot of defensive stops, but its definitely progress. We also caused four turnovers, which is big. We emphasize turnovers all the time and we did well last Friday in that aspect. Developing more of a physical presence on defense is a long range goal."
Sikeston had trouble stopping the pass attack of Dexter last week, which is an aspect Gibbs seeks to improve on.
"You have to give Dexter's quarterback a lot of credit, not many high school kids can throw the ball like that," Gibbs said. "But we will keep working on our pass defense. We will try to put more pressure on the quarterback and get better technically in the secondary. Its not as much how your playing the ball as it is getting to your zone or playing your drops. We're going to keep working on that."
The Bulldogs face the 1-2 Indians in what will be their home opener Friday. Jackson has gotten off to a rough start with two road losses to good St. Louis area teams by less than eight combined points.
"They are not 3-0 but they have played three tough teams," said Gibbs. "You look at who they have played and they are all right in the mix of being ranked in the St. Louis area. They are better than their record might indicate."
"They are going to run at us," he continued. "There going to power at us. They are going to play good, strong aggressive defense. They are very big on the inside. It will be a good test for us to see if we can move the ball against those kind of teams."
Gibbs feels that Fridays battle will match up two top area running backs in Sikeston's Jackson and Jackson's Adam Zweigart.
"They are going to run at you," Gibbs said. "They have Adam Zweigart at tailback who is very good. It will be interesting to how things will work out with two good running backs in Eli (Jackson) and (Adam) Zweigart matching up."
Gibbs and his team will see how the Sikeston offense, which has been very potent in the last two weeks, responds to tougher defensive play out of Jackson.
"Offensively we have hit that edge the last couple of games and made some big plays," he said. "We're playing Jackson this week, so that could change. Some of those 10-yard plays could be 4-yard plays. So we have to see how we handle that."
The atmosphere of playing on the road in Jackson will present challenges for the Bulldogs.
"The big thing going in to Friday is how are we going to handle the atmosphere at Jackson," Gibbs said. "A good Jackson ball game is going to have probably five to seven thousand people at it. So we will have to see how we handle that. Hopefully we can prepare our kids and they will be ready."
Gibbs feels his team is ready for the challenge.
"Each team is different and each kid on the team is different," he said. "You never know if you can ever really prepare to play in that type of atmosphere. All you can do is talk to them everyday about it and say 'this is the way its going to be.' Our kids know what Jackson football is and know that they've been the better program in Southeast Missouri for years. They know we haven't beaten them in years and they have really outscored us and all that. But, I don't think that its put them to the point of being scared at all. I think they are really looking forward to the opportunity. Once we get up there we'll find out if we have the horses to stay with them and make it a ballgame. So we will just approach it that way with an open mind. We'll remind them that its going to be hot and heavy up there. It will be interesting to see what happens."