This is the 16th in a series previewing high school football teams in theBi-City area. Coming Tuesday:Harris County
By DAVID MITCHELL
For new Russell County head coach Demond McCoy, the key to the team's success is in the mind, not the body.
"It's all about mental toughness," said McCoy, who was an assistant coach for the previous seven seasons. "Mental toughness. That's the key. Russell County's always had great athletes and great speed. It's just that when it gets a little tough, we can't just find a place to hide."
That's what he's trying to instill in his players in his first season at the helm.
He wants discipline. He wants understanding. He wants his players to play with the right attitude every day, whether in a practice or in a game.
"We're taking this day by day right now," McCoy said. "We want to win each day, and we won't leave the field until we do."
In some cases, that has meant taking a trip back to the basics.
McCoy brought in officials a couple of times during practice to help the players understand what it feels like when they're doing something wrong.
"We want them to have a better idea of the right way to play the game," he said. "Play without holding, without roughing the passer, securing the ball."
McCoy's philosophy has been a welcome change for the players, who feel the team is headed in the right direction.
Running back Quantarius Allen said that McCoy's attention to detail already has made an impact on the players.
"He's giving us discipline," Allen said. "That's what this program has needed for years. It's big for us. There's a lot of talent. We've got plenty of that. We just needed discipline."
Offensive and defensive lineman Alfanza Gatchet has a similar assessment.
"We're a bit more dedicated now," he said. "We've really got someone to push us."
The improved commitment to doing things the right way won't always result in an immediate turnaround on the field.
Russell County still faces a battle when it comes to number of participants, which can hinder even the best athletes from competing for a full 48 minutes.
Depth or not, though, McCoy listed several players he expects big things from in 2012.
Allen, for one, will be an integral part of the offense at running back, McCoy said. And, as it stood in the middle of last week, four players still were competing for the starting quarterback position.
Byron Johnson, a sophomore, started in the scrimmage game, while B.J. Brooks is the returning starter from 2011. Dalton Lee, a transfer, and Kino Franklin also were in the mix.
"They all bring something different," McCoy said. "Most of all, they bring competition. With low numbers, it's hard to have competition in practice. But that's what we've got with these guys."
Defensively, Gatchet and Eddie Armstrong hold down the defensive end slots while Derrick Harley and Jon Dunbar patrol at linebacker. Ryan Flemming is a "lockdown" corner, according to McCoy, as well.
"I really like what we've got on defense," he said.
The big thing is just seeing improvement, though.
McCoy said it was a three-step process. He needs his players to buy into what they are doing, the parents to follow suit and show their support, and the administration to trust him and what he is trying to accomplish.
So far, they have accomplished all of that.
Now, he just needs to see his players to continue to improve daily.
"We want to compete each night," he said. "Win or lose, we want to see progress."
Allen said the players recognize that as well.
"We're not there yet," he said. "We know we have a lot left to do. It's a work in progress, but we're getting there."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571
Head coach: Demond McCoy
Region: Region 2-AAAAA
Last season's record: 2-8, 2-5 in Region 2-AAAAA
Last season's playoff record: 0-0
Aug. 30 at Central 7 p.m.
Sept. 7 Carroll-Ozark 8 p.m.
Sept. 14 at Rehobeth 8 p.m.
Sept. 21 Eufaula 8 p.m.
Sept. 28 Northside (K) 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Ben Russell 8 p.m.
Oct. 12 Marbury 8 p.m.
Oct. 19 at Valley 8 p.m.
Oct. 26 BTW 8 p.m.
Nov. 2 Dadeville 8 p.m.