FAIRFIELD — The first day of any sports season always holds hope and promise for every team.
That may be especially true in 2020 with the threat of a lost season due to COVID-19, which already robbed high schools of a spring sports season.
Monday was the first official day of football and the Fairfield Trojans took to the practice field with vigor, hoping to erase memories of last year’s winless season.
“We need to have better effort and better intensity throughout the week of practice to make us more prepared for the games,” senior linebacker and offensive tackle Brad Smithburg said. “A lot of games we came in unprepared mentally and physically. We were not up to where we needed to be to compete. I feel like if we compete harder and are more detailed throughout the week of practice, then Friday night will be a lot easier.”
It was Nate Weaton’s first year as the head coach of the Trojans and there was a lot to take in. The season was a learning experience for the coach.
“I learned a lot. I learned to be patient,” he said. “Last year’s kids really set a great foundation for our program. I say you learn a lot more about yourself and your team and about your program going 0-9 than you ever will going 9-0.”
Sometimes the things learned are not something wished to be known.
“We need to work as a team and have a good attitude,” senior lineman Kyle Godwin said. “We could’ve had a better attitude last year.”
It was important for the Trojans to focus on improvement as the season progressed.
“You have to look for the positives more than the negatives,” Weaton said. “We are not as focused on the wins and losses, which does not mean we don’t want to win, but if we really start developing at the program level, then we will see the difference in the kids.”
Part of seeing a difference was emphasizing the weight room, working on their speed, working on teamwork. Most importantly, the coach wants the Trojans playing together and if they do that, the wins will happen.
“I think the season will be a success if everybody is playing together and being a team,” senior running back and defensive back Landen Schafer said. “Also winning a couple games would be great. Last year was not the best.”
The lack of a win in 2019 began to wear down the Trojans.
“If you don’t do it together, you will never get to where you want to go,” Weaton said. “I tell them that all the time. We had a talented group last year, but it just didn’t happen.”
When there is a great class in a school system, it’s important to get experience for the other classes.
“Playing time is so important,” Weaton said. “You have to drive experience into and throughout your organization. When you get a senior class that has never seen the field because you have a dominant class in front of them, it really is a hole.”
This season, there is a lot of younger guys on the Trojans and even if it’s special teams, Weaton will try everything to get them into games so that when they are seniors, it’s not a complete shock for them to be playing at the varsity level. The younger guys also emulate what they see in the leaders of the team.
“As a leader, I try to act like myself,” Godwin said. “I try to be good and do things the right way. I will yell at others sometimes if they are not acting right. I guess I should leave that to the coaches but I don’t sometimes.”
Adapting to the different skill sets of the talent in classes, Weaton will not change the base system to adapt to different players.
“We just move some guys around and try to use their strengths and put them in the right position to succeed,” he said. “We have taught the kids that we are trying to play really simple, really fast football.”
If he were to change the scheme every year, it wouldn’t allow for that simple and fast philosophy to work. Too much thinking would result in more thinking and that means making decisions. The more decisions made, the more chances there is for a wrong choice.
Weaton’s first year as the head coach of the Trojans ended without a win. There are always ‘what ifs’ in life and the Trojans’ first game at Knoxville last season was one of those moments.
Down 16-9 after blocking the extra point kick to give themselves a chance, the Trojans drove the length of the field before throwing an interception at the 4-yard line. What if they had won that game and had more confidence for the next game, then the whole season could have been different. Confidence is a big part of sports.
Weaton is excited about his coaching staff this year, especially the addition of Jeff Jones.
“When you have this many guys that are this passionate about football, passionate about their position groups they are coaching, it makes the head coaching job easy,” he said.
Joe Kruzich is the offensive coordinator. Shawn Dorman is the defensive coordinator. Woody Orne is the coach of the linemen. Brian Dunlap is the coach for receivers and defensive backs. Steve Miller is in charge of linebackers and special teams. Then there is Jones, who is not a position coach, he is an attitude coach.