PLEASANT VALLEY — Pleasant Valley High School football players and coaches look forward to the day, sooner than later, when progress takes a form other than steel, iron and resolve.
They want a day, real soon, when progress turns into region wins, and not just against a Glencoe program that’s fallen on lean times.
Playing against a Class 3A region widely regarded as one of the state’s best, Pleasant Valley wants regard as one of the reasons why that region is so strong. They want that breakthrough win.
There’s a sense in the Raiders’ plush new weight room building and on their secluded, tree-enclosed practice field on the hilltop that the day is nearer than farther. Sense is, the 2018 team might be Pleasant Valley’s best in years.
It’s relative for a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2008 and went winless just three years ago. They were 4-6 a year ago.
Then again, ask around. Coaches whose teams have regularly played the Raiders since fourth-year coach Jonathan Nix arrived go out of their way to note progress. Coaches’ eyes see better football out of Pleasant Valley.
The Raiders do more of the right things.
They bring more of the right mindset.
It just hasn’t showed, when it comes to beating the Piedmonts, Randolph Countys, Ohatchees, Weavers and Wellborns that have prowled their region the past two years.
A 21-13 loss to Ohatchee last season shows how close that day might be. The Raiders will beat somebody, which can be the beginning of beating more somebodies.
For now, it’s about belief.
It’s about one player telling another to do better, and the other player taking the compliment.
It’s about a “3 percent” sign in the new weight room, demanding 40 out of the 1,440 minutes in a day in that room. Make time, not excuses. Get good cross training, designed to build strength but also prevent injuries.
It’s been wildly successful, by the way. The Raiders had two players miss games last season, Nix said. That’s down from when 18 to 20 missed at least a quarter.
Ultimately, the Raider rebuild is about four large, heavy, red medicine balls, rolling on the grass at the end of a long practice. Players in full pads, dispersed in eight lines (four on each end) launch the ball as far as they can, run it down, scoop it up on the run and launch it more.
They cross 50 to 75 yards, depending on the day, until the ball reaches a waiting teammate on the other side. Repeat the other direction.
The team is broken down in two “accountability teams,” and each side has its five-member leadership group. Each accountability team goes through its number while racing the clock.
It’s a drill Nix started in spring and has found useful to improve the Raiders’ kickoff coverage. It teaches players how to run full speed, lower the shoulder to tackle in space or fight off blocks and keep going.
There’s also a team-building element, and Nix stopped the drill recently for an all-call to the center. He’s heard a couple of voices call for day’s best time but not enough. Too much “self talk,” as he calls it, and not enough players buying in.
Players returned to their lines on opposite ends and gave it another go. On the last try of this practice, each of the two accountability teams produces its best time.
It’s a win against fatigue.
It’s another Raider win against internal non-belief, and they’ve piled up those wins over the past three-plus years.
Soon enough, it will translate to wins that earn Pleasant Valley more external believers.