Week 1 of region play was the start of a great run for Salem football last season.
After entering Region 4-AAAA play 1-2, the Seminoles ripped off a 6-1 record in their final seven games en route to a 7-3 record and a No. 2 seed. In 2019, the Seminoles enter region play 0-3, but find themselves in a much different situation than that of last season.
With nearly all the Seminoles’ 2018 starters on offense and defense graduated, head coach Jarrett Laws has been busy explaining the importance of region play to his young team with the help of a couple elder statesman.
“Most of them are so young that when you say region play, a lot of them can't comprehend the importance of it,” Laws said. “For them, what’s important is Heritage or Rockdale or one of these local teams. It’s a learning process for a lot of them. I’ve had a couple of them ask me, ‘coach, why is region so important?’ It speaks to how young we are.”
In three non-region games against Heritage, Coffee and Alcovy, the Seminoles have found the end zone on offense just one time. On defense, the Seminoles have allowed their fair share of touchdowns, including five against the Tigers last Friday.
The struggle has been real in the eyes of Laws, but the chipper coach made light of the situation in the best way that he could.
“Thank God it was non-region,” Laws said. “We walk away from these three non-region games knowing what we cannot do. Now we have to get to a point to find out what we can do. The three games have given me a chance to chip at a few things and and add a few things and come up with the right chemistry for who we have.”
On Friday, the Seminoles will travel to Hampton, a team they beat last season to open region play 32-17. With much of the same personnel still intact for the Hornets, Laws expects Hampton’s option attack to be a challenge to stop, much like it was last season.
“They’re really diverse offensively,” Laws said. “They’re one of the only teams in the state that gets into the pitch phase of the option, which is really hard to defend because it’s so uncommon. We just have to try and find a way to do a couple of things well against them and take away the 2-3 things that they lean on and try to be athletic and make plays to cover the rest of it.”
Running the show on offense for the Hornets will be senior quarterback Jaivion Dorris, who Laws called a better version of Alcovy quarterback MJ Stroud, who the Seminooles faced last Friday.
“He’s (MJ) Stroud with a little more accuracy passing and a little more experience playing the position,” Laws said. “So playing against Stroud last week gave us an opportunity to know what it feels like to play a quarterback that can affect the game in a multitude of ways. We have some things on film that we can work at, but at the end of the day, it boils down to execution. This week is all about execution.”
With Laws priding himself on offense, so does Hampton head coach Chad Ashely, who will face off against Salem’s frontman for the fourth time in search of his first win. Fresh off his career-best finish as a head coach in 2018 at 4-6, Laws knows what Ashley is capable of when calling an offense.
“Chad Ashley is one of the sharper offensive minds,” Laws said. “Chad is one of those guys and he has some athletes on the field. This is one of his more mature teams. I’ve been playing against Chad for a few years and you can always tell on film when he’s got a little something.”
Laws didn’t hold back from saying how often his team misaligned against Alcovy last Friday, both on offense and defense. With hopes of making it back to the playoffs in 2019, Laws knows their alignment must improve going forward.
“We’ve had moments where we’ve gotten it right and it’s looked good,” Laws said. “We watched film (Monday) and totalled it up that we ran more than 85 percent of our offensive and defensive plays wrong. So the 15 percent that was right looked really good. I’m trying to get the kids to learn the importance of playing every play and letting every play have a life of its own.”
Still in the process of learning what his team is capable of, Laws hopes his team can figure out how to win games as they enter region play.
“It’s like a relationship growing process,” Laws said. “We’re still getting to know each other. Those three games gave me a chance to feel them out and see what makes them comfortable. Hopefully we can put this information together and be competitive in region play.”