Preparation this week has been a bit like looking in the mirror for the Brookstone football team.
Coach Brad Dehem is in his first season with the Cougars (2-1) after six as an offensive coordinator at Wesleyan (2-1), which Brookstone faces at 7:30 tonight in Norcross. And while Dehem is gone from the Wolves' staff, the main facets of his offense remain in place.
Both teams primarily have used pro and four-wide sets this year, with some exceptions, Dehem said.
On the surface, it might seem like a good thing for Dehem and the Cougars, but the coach dispelled any notion that there might be some kind of advantage to having run the opponent's offense.
"You think it would be a big advantage, but the kids change, even over just a year," Dehem said. "They put on weight, they lift, they get better. There's a little familiarity with it, but it's hard to game plan for it."
Players from both sides of the ball echoed Dehem's words.
Linebacker Jackson Mansour said that, while it might help to have an idea of the schemes the opposing offense will run, the flip side is also true.
"It helps, but they know our offense, too," he said. "So it's really just going to come down to playing football."
"We're really confident in what we do, and our coaches do a great job coming up with a game plan that's going to work," offensive lineman Joseph Akin added. "We know they know a lot about us, but it's really just about going out and executing."
Dehem said that the only real advantage for his team is that he has a good idea of the players the Cougars have to look out for. Those include Jahmai Jones, a wide receiver who Dehem said might be the best athlete on either side of the game, running back Miles Smith, a sophomore who runs hard, and quarterback Will Anderson, who is smart, accurate and limits his mistakes.
"When you play against players like those, you have to be very sound," Dehem said. "You can't make mistakes."
Perhaps the biggest obstacle for Brookstone, however, is that it is playing a team that knows the Cougars' offense better than they do themselves.
Dehem noted that, while Wesleyan has run that offense for years, the Cougars' offense is still in its infancy, having run it in just a couple games so far.
"We're improving, and we're getting better," he said, "but we have to remind ourselves sometimes that we're still in a learning process."
As a result, the defense has played a big role in the team's early-season success, something Dehem said would have to continue tonight.
The game itself is big for Brookstone for a handful of reasons, despite not being against a region opponent.
It still counts when it comes to the power ratings because, as Dehem noted, Wesleyan is sure to help its résumé. And, almost as important, it is a good opportunity for the Cougars to see the progress they have made and how they measure up against one of the state's top-tier opponents on the road.
"It's going to be a big game for us," Mansour said. "We've definitely picked up the speed and intensity in practice. You really want to simulate game speed, and that's what we've been trying to do this week."
Akin had similar sentiments about the game.
"All week, we've known that it's a bigger game than most, and we've prepared for it that way," he said. "It's been a lot more intense at practice. We realize that it makes a big statement to go up there and get it done at their place, and we have confidence that we can do that.
"It's probably one of the biggest games at Brookstone since I've been here."
And while Dehem downplayed that it is against his former team, stating that there's enough riding on the game to motivate his team already, the players said it does add a little extra motivation.
"We know it's an emotional game for him," Akin said. "It's an emotional game for all of us. We just want to go out there and do well for him and all of us, really."
"It's a factor," Mansour added. "Definitely."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571