They’ve had practices and scrimmages on their home turf. They’ve even had dress rehearsals.
What the Thompson High football team hasn’t done, though, is turn on those Friday Night Lights at brand new Warrior Stadium. So, it’s with more than a little apprehension that Thompson head coach Mark Freeman is fighting as he readies for his team’s Class 7A Region 3 matchup with visiting Oak Mountain on Friday night.
“For the public and students, I think it adds a lot of excitement,” Freeman said. “For us, it’s kind of scary, because we haven’t gone through it yet. We’ve walked through it and mimicked it and all that, but transitioning in the middle of the year is tough. We’re going to be walking through tomorrow night, basically for the first time, with it being live and in color. I’ve worried about it all week.”
One thing he hasn’t worried about, however, is what the people seeing the stadium for the first time – live and in color – will think about the program’s new home.
“It’s exciting and it’s a blessing to have a place like this and to have a place that your students, your town, your faculty and everybody can be a part of it,” Freeman said. “We don’t have to drive buses down to home games anymore. We’ve got a great place for parking. It’s such viewer friendly, from parking to concessions to the stands. Man, it’s the best set up I’ve seen in high school football.”
Once the ball kicks off at 7 p.m., however, the focus turns to what’s happening within the lines. In a way, at least from Thompson’s perspective, that focus begins with attempting to stop a complicated option offense that put up 89 points in the Eagles’ first two games, including 47 in a five-point loss to Hewitt Trussville last week.
Thompson used many of its veteran players to give scout team looks to the Warrior defense this week, attempting to simulate what to expect at game speed. Even with that approach, they couldn’t completely duplicate what the defense will see Friday night from freshman quarterback Evan Smith, senior running back Luke Percer and the rest of the Oak Mountain offense.
“They have a system that they run over there,” said Freeman. “You have to get on them, try to get a lead and hang on to it. You got to tackle the dive man. The dive can be A gap, it can be B gap, it can be so many things. You got to tackle the dive before anything. You got to share your responsibilities and they’re in the gun this year, so you’ve got to defend the pass a little bit more.”
Another factor on Friday night will be Thompson’s ability to move on from last week’s Region 3 opening loss to Hoover.
“We’re trying to fix mistakes and worrying about the mental aspect of a bunch of young kids,” Freeman said. We played a 9th grader, who had a bunch of snaps. We played 10th graders that had a bunch of snaps. Our leading receiver was a 10th grader. Right now, we’re in that deal where you don’t know your guys well enough to say, ‘OK, how are they going to respond when I’m not there pushing them?’ How are they going to respond if something negative goes wrong. You never know with teams until you’re out there and you go through it. I think our guys are ready to play and will respond very well.”