When new Plano West head coach Tyler Soukup took over the job in February, his first steps were clear – he aimed to instill a commitment to a mindset of growth, mental toughness and energy that he felt the program lacked.
Though the first-year head coach has seen his group take strides throughout his inaugural spring at the helm, he hasn’t allowed the Wolves time to be comfortable and said that his group is far from the team it needs to be to compete at a higher level.
“I think we definitely got stronger but, more importantly, we made some cultural changes that I think were evident in our spring,” Soukup said. “It’s a combination of a couple additional things that were really important to us. We’re trying to improve the mental toughness and the discipline of our football team. … Most kids think that they know what ‘going hard’ looks like, and we’ve had to change that.”
Soukup described the spring schedule, which culminated in the program’s annual spring game last week, as designed to force his players to push through discomfort and to re-evaluate what exactly it means to give total effort.
The group that’s latched on to that message, Soukup said, is the one with the least amount of time to get it right – the incoming senior class at West, which has been on board for the entirety of the school’s 26-game losing skid, has responded to the new leader’s directive.
“Our juniors are willing to do what it takes. … Those kids have embraced my presence from day one. They’ve done everything that we’ve asked them to do and, more importantly, they’ve embraced those cultural changes that I’m asking [for],” Soukup said.
Soukup has started from ground level at the quarterback position, giving a number of athletes equal reps at the position throughout spring camp.
From 2018 starter Danny Davis and backup Will Cannon, both juniors, to fellow juniors Wyatt Johnson and Andrew Picco and sophomores Greg Draughn and Beck Gray, Soukup has allowed his group of signal-callers to remain oversized heading into 7-on-7 season and beyond.
“I told each one of those kids that there will continue to be a competition at the start of the fall. … I’m really excited about the fact that there are truly enough talented kids here to make it a competitive environment,” he said. “Someone’s going to rise to the top. Experience has taught me that, and whoever ends up winning our quarterback battle is going to be significantly better because they had to compete for it.”
There have been early standouts elsewhere, however. Soukup labeled rising senior offensive linemen Jason Miao and Josh Singleton as exhibiting the toughness and leadership he’s looking for, adding that juniors Demile Pryce and John Thomas have stood out among the defensive unit.
Soukup was also impressed with junior wide receiver and safety Tavarius Garland, who highlights a need for the Wolves to have a select group play on both sides of the football.
“It’s intentional in the moment,” Soukup said. “Our numbers are just not what they need to be. With numbers comes depth, and our depth is a significant issue right now. … Depth is such a primary thing that a lot of people don’t appreciate, and it’s really the difference between the great ones, the good ones and the average ones.”
While the Wolves’ execution fell short of Soukup’s goal in the team’s spring game, which finished with a 7-0 final score, he said he was pleased with the players’ overall energy and effort despite a few instances of players trending toward overzealous and chippy with their teammates.
“I really do believe that our excitement to play last Thursday and the energy and effort with which the kids played – I was really, really proud of [that],” Soukup said. “Our execution stunk. … I did kind of anticipate we’d have some execution errors, but those are things that are controllable. Those are things that our staff and myself can coach, and those are things that we can improve through video study and teaching time and repetition. But the energy level – that’s a choice the kids have to make.”
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