When the stretching lines broke down and the Plano West football team surrounded head coach Tyler Soukup to begin practice Thursday, his opening statement was simple one – don’t forget why you’re here.
It’s a phrase Soukup said was meant to spur a renewed focus among his group, which he admitted had a down midweek practice Wednesday.
“When it’s 102 degrees out and you’re wearing pads and people are trying to hit you and be physical with you, you need to remember what motivated you to go out there and do that in the first place,” he said. “I think on Wednesday – this tends to happen to kids and to people, it’s human nature – we forgot.
“… We make some emotional commitments to say I’m never going to let that happen again or I’m always going to do this, and it’s easy when we’re not emotional to forget what you’re committed to. You’ve got to remind yourself every day what you’re committed to.”
The Wolves, losers of their last 26 games and authors of two straight winless seasons, are in search of a way to convert the cultural foundation Soukup is trying to instill into long-awaited results on the field.
It begins, senior offensive lineman Josh Singleton said, with discipline.
“I feel like he’s definitely got us more disciplined than last year and more focused on our job and all the little details,” Singleton said.
Soukup also brought up to his group for the first time what he called the “burden of failure” the Wolves currently bear.
“It’s all of ours. We all shoulder that burden, and we’re carrying it together, and we’d like to unload it, for sure. … I’ve really not mentioned nor talked about it since I’ve been here,” he said. “I’ve really promoted an attitude of where we’re headed and not where we were is the most important thing, but I mentioned it to them the other day and said it’s not lost on me that we’re carrying that burden.”
Much has been said about Soukup’s push for effort, consistency and commitment as he begins forging a path forward for the Wolves, but the first-year head coach also has designs on sweeping changes to the on-field product, particularly in the passing game.
Enter senior Tavarius Garland.
A likely two-way star for the Wolves, the athletic wideout will be called upon to help lead a Renaissance for the West aerial attack, a prospect he’s excited about.
“[I expect] a lot more passing yards versus run after run,” he said. “We have talent with the running backs and receivers, so we’ll get some running and some passing. But, hopefully, more passing.”
For Garland and his fellow seniors, this season is an opportunity to be remembered as the class that set in motion a new era of West football.
“It really means a lot to most of us seniors, because we know this is the last one – the last time putting on a Plano West jersey,” he said. “We want to make it the best we can and leave the program with a good taste for the younger group.”
It remains to be seen who will lead the West aerial attack from under center. Entering the spring and 7-on-7 season, the battle to be the No. 1 signal-caller was a wide-ranging one, encompassing a handful of potential starters in 2018 quarterbacks and seniors Danny Davis and Will Cannon and fellow seniors Andrew Picco and Wyatt Johnson.
Though he declined to publicly name a leader in the clubhouse, that competition, Soukup said, is close to its completion.
“They’re making it hard. All of them are really great kids. They’re great athletes, and they’re doing a nice job,” he said. “But, in the end, it’s kind of a twofold deal. No one’s going to go and play four quarterbacks, but, ultimately, every one of those kids can help us somewhere else, also. We’ll begin narrowing this thing down real quickly.”
When the 2019 season closes, Soukup said the Wolves will avoid judging their progress in his first season at the helm solely based on whether or not they can slay the demons built over the course of more than two years and finish with a tally on the correct side of their win-loss record.
Instead, he hopes to look back and reflect on a season that saw his athletes successfully focus on the small picture in the face of an overwhelming large one.
“[I’m] trying to get them to understand, week by week and day by day, how to see small and not see big,” he said. “Not look to the end of November. … If we can go out and have a great and an energetic practice today, I’d be stoked. If we can kids to do that on a daily basis and then play with relentless effort on Fridays, I’d be happy. I’d call that success.”
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