FAYETTEVILLE — About a half hour into Purnell Swett’s 7-on-7 scrimmage against Gray’s Creek on Thursday night, attitudes between the two teams changed.
A player for the Rams offense was sent to the dirt at the end of a play, and the drills took a different tone. Players became more aggressive. Tempers started to flare.
Both coaching staffs calmed players down and the drills continued, but for the coaches, it wasn’t something to be proud of.
“You don’t want to do that in a 7-on-7,” Purnell Swett coach Mark Heil said. “All you have is helmets on and the safety of both teams players is priority.”
That being said, Heil was proud of how his team responded.
“What I liked is our kids responded back and got aggressive back at them,” he said. “That’s what I need. That’s how we play, that’s what we’re supposed to do.
“We have to defend ourselves and we have to be the aggressor, and if someone strikes us, we’re a family and we’ll strike back.”
That has been one of the main messages being preached by Heil to a team that in it’s past two years, has gone away from the physical style of football they have been known for.
“I want to get back to the tradition of the way we play,” Heil said. “We might not win, we might not be very fast, but we want to hit people in the face and that’s what we have to start getting back to.
“I’m preaching it to the whole team, because that’s the way Purnell Swett plays, and we haven’t in the last two years.”
Heil said summer work isn’t just about the team being more physical though. He has also been working on improving the team’s skill level over the summer, but even more so, its knowledge of the game, implementing more complicated pieces of the offense during the summer to have them ready for August 1.
In his eyes, that work is visibly paying off.
“We made less mental mistakes tonight than we did two days ago at school,” Heil said. “I’m throwing a lot on them. I’m putting our three main motion packages all on them at one time, so hopefully we’ll get smarter and smarter.”
The players are seeing the improvement as well, and running back and linebacker Joshua Jacobs said they have become stronger not only as individuals, but as a unit.
“We worked hard, did everything good, learned unity and are all working together,” he said.
Quarterback Thriston Lowry, who is a returning starter from last year’s team, is also seeing improvements across the board.
“We’re improving,” he said. “The offensive line’s getting a whole lot better from last year. The defense is flying to the ball and being physical.”
Offensively, the team’s confidence is growing as well according to Lowry.
“We can gain yards no matter what kind of defense they have,” he said.
That doesn’t mean the team doesn’t have pieces and parts that have had their struggles.
“We have some key people from last year that need to catch the ball better,” Heil said. “If we’re going to be better, they have to catch it.”