In sports, it’s often said that during the offseason, confidence is contagious. The mixture of seeing potential talent and having optimistic reasoning can sometimes create a mirage of the talent a team may or may not have. Any team can look good in scrimmages against themselves. The true test is how you stand up against opposing teams.
Based on what Lions head coach Jon Meeks saw during the team’s first scrimmage of the year against Liberty High School and Dan River High School on Saturday, Aug. 17, his confidence has actual merit.
“I just loved how we flew around,” Meeks said. “On some plays, we had eight hats on the ball, and that’s what it’s all about.
In the scrimmage’s format, each team rotated drives of 10 plays with the ball, each side getting two opportunities to score. It gives coaches an opportunity to assess talent and try new strategies.
“That’s why we make that long drive to Bedford,” Meeks said. “Liberty is always really physical, so it allows us to test ourselves and see where we are early in the year. Even when they’ve had down years in the past, they hit.”
In the first game, Louisa played to a stalemate against Liberty High School – a team that has won at least 10 games in eight of the past 13 years – finishing in a 7-7 tie.
Yet, whether you attribute it to the two-hour bus ride to Bedford, inexperience or bad luck, Louisa started off flatfooted. Liberty scored on their fourth play of the scrimmage with a powerful run through the heart of Louisa’s 3-5 stack defense.
The Lions looked sleepy. Meeks’ lively pep talk before Louisa’s ensuing offensive possession jerked them back to life.
“The worst we played that whole day was the first 10 plays of that scrimmage,” Meeks said. “Once we woke up, we were good.”
The next Lions possession was a display of talent from the players Meeks will lean on heavily this year. First, it was quarterback Trey Cherry scrambling right for 15 yards. Then it was running back Markel Groomes chugging down the middle of Liberty’s defense for solid first downs. Almost fittingly, team captain Deion Johnson culminated the drive with his 40-yard touchdown catch on a streak route down the right sideline.
It was the type of mental fortitude that some teams don’t have this early into the season, and it’s the type of resilience that the coaching staff was looking for.
“I love that, bouncing back,” Meeks said. “We always talk about not pouting. You’re going to make mistakes, but you have to get over it. I always tell the team to not follow a mistake with another mistake.”
Down time was few and far between for the Lions, who had a short 10-minute break before heading back onto the field to face Dan River High School, a team deep in talent but seemingly short on discipline. Though the teams played to a scoreless tie, it was more a lack of simply finishing plays than the defense of Dan River that kept Louisa out of the end zone.
Johnson just barely missed catching his second long ball of the day after easily slipping behind the Dan River secondary. Defensively, Johnson redeemed himself with a leaping interception on a long pass attempt.
Along with linebacker Brian Townes, freshman nose tackle Deion Jackson stuffed nearly every run attempt by Dan River, a feat that left a lasting impression on Meeks.
“Usually your nose tackle on a 3-5 defense doesn’t have many tackles,” Meeks said. “He made some tackles on sweeps, and I’m not used to that! He got in on a lot of plays. He’s strong, and to be that young, that’s huge. I was really pleased with him and [fellow defensive lineman] Demetrius Washington up front. And when Townes filled holes, he filled them with purpose.”
Yet if the Lions’ first stringers were effective, the second stringers were downright impressive. In the last scrimmage of the day, the Lions faced off against Liberty for a second time. Both teams put more of a focus on giving second and third stringers a chance to get some playing time in and perhaps make a move up the depth chart.
Idris Davis, who only took over the backup quarterback position in the past week or so, seemed completely comfortable in the play-calling position. His mobility was on full display during a 55-yard scramble off of a perfectly timed pump fake, followed by a few shifty moves in the open field.
As the defense crept to the line of scrimmage to compensate, Davis lofted a perfect toss to the end zone for a 25-yard score while rolling to his left. Davis created his own personal encore on the next drive, throwing a 12-yard score on a play-action role to his right.
For Meeks, Davis’ performance meant one thing: security.
To read the entire story, see the Aug. 22 edition of The Central Virginian.