With just a couple of weeks of practice in the books, the Powell High School football team will once again get an early start on the 2018 season. The team squares off Friday against Riverton in Zero Week action at Panther Stadium.
“We’re looking good. Each day we’re taking longer strides, and as a coach that’s what you really want to see,” said first-year head coach Aaron Papich. “Confidence and morale is high, so I’m very happy.”
There are likely to be some familiar faces on the Riverton sidelines Friday for Papich, who served as an assistant for the Wolverines last season under head coach Pat Patterson. Papich said facing his old team is bittersweet in a way, as he forged many strong relationships with coaches and players.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to see those guys, and I’m looking forward to talking with some of the coaches and players,” he said. “I’ll shake their hands and ask how their summer was, and once the game kicks off, it will be a great atmosphere for some football.”
It’s a bit early yet to have a reliable scouting report on the Wolverines, though Papich said the team is bringing back a host of talented athletes and always has a strong offensive and defensive line.
“Cade Campbell is really good, we’ll definitely have to watch for him,” Papich said. “I think Riverton is a well-coached team, and coach Patterson will have them ready to play, that’s for sure.”
Senior Kaelan Groves will be under center for the Panthers Friday night, though Papich said he and his assistant coaches will be moving players around to create competitive matchups. Look for junior Ethan Asher to get some reps at quarterback as well, as he competes with Groves for playing time.
“We’re heading into the game with a lot of options. We’ve got a lot of big guys, so you’re going to see a lot of substitutions on the line.” Papich said. “With our quarterback and our receivers, we’re going to have some rotating going on there, as well. This Zero Week game will give us a chance to see where we’re at under pressure in a game situation. We want to see where we’re at as a whole team before we solidify our starting group come the Worland game.”
Papich said senior Carson Heinen will be a key component of the offense at the tight end position, while sophomore Seth Horton and junior Brody Karhu are expected to make some noise on the defensive side of the ball.
“We want the guys to respond above the line, which is discipline-driven,” Papich said. “What we’re doing is intentional, skillful and on purpose. That’s really what we cue on, it’s really that simple. That’s what we preach, and that’s what we hang our hat on.”
Papich and his staff have designed practices to get the best out of the players with little wasted time.
“With bordering on 70 kids, two hours of practice isn’t that much time,” he said. “You have to figure out a way to maximize efficiency and still be able to coach kids on a one-on-one basis. We get everyone doing the same thing, then we break it up into groups. The older guys are leading from the front, and the younger guys follow that example.”
Heading into his first game as a head coach, Papich admits to a few butterflies, but he expects that feeling to dissipate once the whistle blows.
“I’m excited, but I’m also being purposeful about what I’m doing,” he said. “I have to keep myself in check and be sure that I’m serving the players and the coaches and putting them in the best possible position to be successful.”
The biggest takeaway Papich took from last week’s intra-squad scrimmage was a need for the Panthers to approach the game with urgency. Coaches will be calling in plays from the sidelines, so the team will be going no-huddle as much as possible.
“In order for that to happen, we gotta have a sense of urgency about us,” he said. “We gotta be looking at Coach Wiz [Waleryan Wisniewski] and Coach [Chase] Kistler for formations and the play call, get set, and get ready to go. That was the biggest thing that I came away with during the scrimmage. Tempo and communication is huge, especially when the moment is really significant.”