|Stone Bridge head coach Mickey Thompson talks to his players during a 2012 playoff game. Thompson has headed the Bulldog program since the school opened in 2000.—Times-Mirror File Photo/Pat Kane|
Preparation is everything for Stone Bridge High School's varsity football coaching staff.
It's halftime in Ashburn with the Bulldogs leading South Lakes by a comfortable margin of 28-0. With the offense carefully listening during meetings, head coach Mickey Thompson and assistant Kyle Wrenn analyze film of the first half on Wrenn's iPad.
Thompson notices something in the Seahawks' alignment and immediately begins diagramming a new blocking scheme.
"Alright, let's see if we can hit a home run in the two-hole," Thompson exclaims regarding the hole in between his center and right guard. "Oh man, it's nice having that [iPad]."
About six minutes later on the Bulldogs' third play from scrimmage, Sterling Dailey rips off a 68-yard touchdown run through the two-hole, practically untouched. The result is something that the senior feature back has come to expect with the ever-changing adjustments the coaches make during a game.
"Coach Thompson is such a smart guy, I just rely on him and do whatever he says, and the big play will probably happen sooner or later," Dailey said. "We realize how much they do for us on a weekly basis, so we just try to take advantage of every opportunity."
The halftime example was just one of many successful adjustments the coaching staff made throughout the night Oct. 25 in the Bulldogs' 41-13 victory. Even though Stone Bridge has certainly been blessed with countless playmakers in its history, a constant of the program has been a core group of coaches that put incredible amounts of time into preparing.
"Most of our guys are in here six, seven hours a week studying and our coordinators are here about 15 hours a week just analyzing," Thompson said. "There is a trust there. It takes awhile to pick up, but it keeps progressing as coaches stay longer."
Thompson continued, "Coach [Derek] Barlow started at blocking backs but is running the defense now, and we talk about it, but it's his show. Coach [Jason] Treon takes care of the secondary. If we're playing against a passing team, he might put in 25 hours of work. All of those guys are putting in enormous amounts of time."
With so much preparation leading up to games, the coaching staff prefers to keep things light before taking the field on Friday nights. After the school day ends, coaches and players have the freedom to do whatever they wish in order to prepare for the night.
While the staff meets in the comfortable confines of the coaches' office at about 5:15 p.m., players aren't required to arrive until 6 and must be in the "shed" by 6:15, about an hour before kickoff.
"It's really important that our guys go into the game with a clean head, and aren't bombarded with last-minute information," explained Barlow, whose been coaching for the Bulldogs since 2003. "You don't want them to be over-thinking anything, we already put in all of our preparation during the week. By the time game time rolls around, they're just playing."
While music blasts in the locker room as players get dressed and head to the shed at 6, the coaching staff takes a few intense minutes to get in the zone, a tradition that dates back to the second year of the program. The players aren't the only ones that prefer to have their adrenaline at full capacity for the game, as numerous chest-bumps are shared amongst the group. By the time the staff leaves the office, there's a serious look of determination on each of their faces.
As the coaches head into the infamous shed at about 6:20, defensive backs coach Jason Treon - a former Dulles District Player of the Year in baseball at Potomac Falls - walks over to cornerback Tylon Lynch to offer a few words of coverage advice. Offensive line coach Patrick McManus, whom coached Loudoun County High School for 16 seasons, goes over some blocking schemes with a few of his linemen. Linebackers coach David Madgewick, a longtime Stone Bridge teacher of 12 years who became a coach two years ago, offers some advice to his pupils on blitzing plays.
At 6:40, coach Thompson addresses the entire team before they head to their offensive and defensive positional meetings.
"Our rise starts now," Thompson tells his players. "So when we hit the playoffs, we're playing better than ever. Make no mistakes, and enjoy your time playing football in this family."
During the positional meetings, offensive coordinator Wayne Todd goes over the first play call of the game: Deuce PAP (play-action pass) Skinny. He believes the long, skinny post-route will be open down the field. Following the conclusion of positional meetings, the skill players take the field at 6:51 to warm-up. The linemen join them at 7 as one Bulldog is overheard yelling "let's go to work!"
Following a positional warmup and a short period of team offense, the Bulldogs retreat to the shed as game time nears. The team gathers in a circle as senior safety and captain James Manning leads them in a short prayer, and senior lineman Mike Hickey follows by leading the team in reciting "The Code," a more recent Stone Bridge tradition. At 7:25, with Eminem's “Lose Yourself” blasting in the shed (a long-standing tradition), the Bulldogs are ready to be unleashed through a thick cloud of smoke. It's finally game time.
At 7:36, the Bulldogs begin their first offensive series following a quick stop on defense. It's time for Deuce PAP Skinny. Quarterback Joe Thompson fakes a hand-off that pulls forward the secondary for a brief second, and calmly hits a wide-open D'Ante Yarborough for a 38-yard gain. Four plays later, the Bulldogs take a 7-0 lead on a 20-yard Thompson touchdown pass to Taylor Karafa.
"I saw on film that Marshall beat them deep on a few plays that were similar," Todd said after the game. "It could have been a touchdown if we threw it a little better, but it was definitely nice to begin on a good note and score an early touchdown."
Just nine minutes after the Karafa score, it appears Tylon Lynch has used Treon's advice from before the game. He jumps in front of a hitch-route and takes an interception to the house to open up a 14-0 lead as Barlow fist-pumps down the sideline and Treon sports a wide grin.
"The kids have relationships with the coaches that don't come and go," Thompson said. "Most of the time you have the same coaches for all four years you're here. So you begin to develop that trust as time goes on."
The Bulldogs score two more times in the half on a 5-yard run by Dailey and a 6-yard run by Thompson, and the head coach admits he's pleased with the way Stone Bridge is playing at half. On top of the two-hole adjustment, coach Thompson explains different schemes he'd like to work on in the second half.
"That's the thing. We could run single-wing all night, score 70 and not get better," Barlow said. "This way we can work on things for the future and get a good look at what we need to improve on."
After Stone Bridge only manages to score one offensive touchdown in the second half - in addition to a pick-six by Chance Frye - Thompson makes it clear to his players that he didn't particularly like the team's execution.
"We played a great first half. But honestly, the second half was bad as a group. Know we had mistakes so we can get better."
It's 9:57 and the coaches are finally back in the office, and a fresh batch of chili is served thanks to one of the program's longtime contributors. Coaches share little tidbits with each other, and already begin brainstorming on how to get better. It's not time to head home to see families just yet.
Special teams coach Billy Rice, who recently joined the staff after living in Florida and who Thompson says "has been a really nice addition in the past couple of years," uploads the game film on one of the flat-screens in the office. At 10:58, the film is ready to go and the coaches dissect what worked and what didn't in the 28-point win.
Finally, at 1 a.m., the coaching staff is finished with their day.
"See you guys on Sunday," Thompson adds.
That's when coaches will break down their next opponent, Fairfax. That film session will likely lead to Todd's Week 9 version of "Deuce PAP Skinny" and Treon will likely notice a route that his defensive backs can jump to create another defensive score.
As you can see, preparation is indeed everything for the Stone Bridge coaching staff.
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