By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
In the first spring practice a year ago, Stillwater High School football coach Tucker Barnard barely said two words, his eyes deadlocked on the two quarterbacks competing for the starting role.
Monday, Barnard’s voice — along with that of nearly every coach and all 70 players — ran throughout the empty Pioneer Stadium as the Pioneers opened spring practice.
“I think it’s a combination of a few things,” Barnard said. “We’re excited right now. We’re excited about this group and the things they can do, and we’re excited about their passion to play. We’ve been real pleased with our offseason workouts and their attendance. It’s pretty easy to be excited when they’re engaged and want to be here.”
First practices aren’t always an indication of how a team will fare during the season, but there certainly was a renewed passion — a passion that might have been missing last year.
“It’s awesome,” Stillwater quarterback Braxton Noble said. “Being able to be back out here with my team and getting to share the field with them, (we were) just doing what we do. It feels awesome.”
It wasn’t all positive for the Pioneers, as most first practices aren’t. At times, those elevated voices were barks of frustration at younger and less experienced players. But as frustrating as the first day can be, the young Pioneers also showed signs of brilliance.
“It’s a lot of fun to be out here,” Barnard said. “It’s just fun. This is a great time of year to pick up some practice and get ready for team camps.
“It was a lot of fun. We had a lot of inconsistencies today, but that’s going to get better. We’ve got a bunch of young kids and our young kids are getting a lot more reps than probably what they would have last year. In the end, that’s going to be really good for us, but right now they’re so busy trying to figure out where to stand that it’s hard to think about what to do and what you’re responsibilities are.”
One player who had no problem adjusting to the new level? Soon-to-be sophomore Quan Malveaux.
Even with Ty Smith favored as the one to replace graduating senior Davyn Thompson, Malveaux showed he’s willing to fight for that starting role. His cuts were spot on and he showed enough burst to blow through holes and into the secondary.
“He’s always been a grade below me, so I’ve always kind of seen him play, but he’s an athlete,” Noble said. “He’s a flat out athlete. ...I think he impressed a lot of people. He blew my expectations away.”
“He is very, very talented, there’s no doubt,” Barnard said. “He can run and he’s got great vision. He did a good job today and that was fun to watch. He got a little tired gaining too many yards on our defense. He’s got a lot of potential, but there are some things he has to do better right off the bat. He has to have better ball security. He had a few fumbles today, but he’ll get better.”
As for the offense itself, everything looked to be running smoothly. Sure, the pace wasn’t as fast as the coaches would have liked — with offensive coordinator Paul Hix consistently telling the young offense to pick up the pace — but the offense was able to move the ball with precision and efficiency.
“I feel like we were kind of sloppy, but we moved the ball,” Noble said. “I’m happy with the way the offense played today. Everybody did good. The line blocked pretty well, the receivers caught well and the running backs did what they were supposed to do.”
“I liked some of the things I saw from the offensive line,” Barnard said. “I saw a young offensive line that was playing with the first group that really held their own against an older defensive line. A lot of times, they absolutely moved us where they wanted us. That’s exciting to see from the offensive line standpoint.”
It may not have been a perfect start to the spring practice season, but those flashes of brilliance on both sides of the ball could spell good things in the fall.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment since Sept. 29, 2012, so it was awesome,” Noble said. “We’re just going to keep practicing hard. If need be, we’ll come out and get some extra reps in and just do what it takes to be 100 percent on Friday nights.”