Published 10:34 pm Wednesday, September 3, 2008
LINDEN — The Patriots aim to get off to a hot start in region play when they travel to Akron Friday night for their 1A, Region 3 opener.
“It’s very important. We’ve got a goal to be region champions and this is the first step,” senior fullback and linebacker Maurice Tate said of the emphasis the team has placed on this game.
“We should come out early and start off,” senior running back Shantrell Braxton said. “There’s no starting slow.”
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The Patriots opened their season last week with a win over 3A Cottage Hill. While their performance was enough to win the game, some Patriot players saw deficiencies they are seeking to correct before Friday night.
“We’ve got to pick the tempo up a little bit more,” Tate said. “We’ve got to get better at that and have a little bit more excitement.”
“We started out against Cottage Hill and we had to adjust,” head coach Andro Williams said of a defensive unit that, as a result of lost practice time due to inclement weather, was somewhat unprepared for the spread attack it faced in its season opener. “It took us a quarter to get adjusted to it. (Our kids) battled. Our kids responded well.”
Williams’ team surrendered only one score in the second half. That touchdown came as the result of a busted punt coverage.
This week, Williams says he anticipates a different look when his team faces Akron.
“We know we’re going to see a fast football team with a lot of speed. If we don’t come out of the gate and play fast and physical with them, (we will experience some difficulties.),” Williams said. “We’ve got to play better on the edges this week.”
“We’ve got to come in and win the battle on special teams,” Williams said. “We’ve got to come out and establish ourselves early and often.”
While Linden players continually emphasize areas in which they believe they could improve, the attitude and expectations surrounding the program seem to have improved.
“To the team, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do,” Braxton said. “We’ve got to win every down, every play, every second.”
The team’s collection of skill players seems to be one of the primary reasons behind its heightened expectations.
“If you ask me, I don’t think (any team has better skill players),” Tate said. “And the work ethic, I don’t think there is anybody, anywhere who’s got a better set of skill players. And we’ve still got room to get better.”
Aside from Tate and Braxton, the team also boasts receiver Larente Taylor and wingback Gerald Bruno. Additionally, senior quarterback Ajalon Bruno has reportedly made great strides within the team’s system.
“He’s stepped up big time,” Tate said of the signal caller. “He’s doing good throwing the ball. I think his arm has gotten stronger. He leads our offense.”
“I’m comfortable because we ran (this offense) last year,” the quarterback said. He added that his work in the weight room has also helped him develop his passing ability. Those improvements have apparently not gone unnoticed by Bruno’s coaches and teammates.
“We can do some things offensively to help him be better,” Williams said of his quarterback. “But he’s gotten better throwing the football.”
One of the team’s chief focuses throughout the summer and early season practices has been on improving an inexperienced offensive line.
“They’ve made big progress. We’re getting better and better everyday,” Tate said of the group.
Williams said the group had made great progress throughout the off-season, but added that it was nowhere near as good as it would be.
“We’ve got to gel. When they gel as a whole, it’s going to make us a better football team,” Williams said. “Coach (William) Matthews came in and helped that offensive line. We put some guys that were actually running backs up there on the line and it’s helped us.”