By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Not a lot of people get too excited about scrimmages. The stats don’t matter. The points don’t count and even some of the most spectacular plays will be forgotten in two weeks.
But don’t tell that to the Stillwater High School football team. For them, the season starts as soon as the ball is kicked off against Broken Arrow and Tulsa Edison Friday at Pioneer Stadium.
“I can’t wait,” Stillwater coach Tucker Barnard said. “I hope our kids feel good about it. I hope they’re ready to go and I hope they’re up to the challenge. We know what we’re facing, so we just have to go out (Friday) and execute, play hard and have fun.”
If Thursday’s practice was any indication, the Pioneers will certainly be up to the challenge — even with Broken Arrow, a team that has aspirations of a state championship, coming to town.
There was plenty of hooting and hollering going on — and even a few big hits here and there — showing that the Pioneers aren’t intimidated by the Tigers.
“They’re a great team, don’t get me wrong, but they put their pants on just like anybody else — one leg at a time,” Stillwater quarterback Braxton Noble said. “We just have to go out there and execute. ... We’re going to dominate. We’re not going to accept anything less.”
The Pioneers may have been juiced up enough to play Thursday, but Barnard said Thursday’s success won’t necessarily translate into success Friday.
“The players came out with a good attitude (Thursday), playing hard, practicing hard and having fun,” Barnard said. “We need to be able to have fun out there. If we’re not having very much fun, it’s hard to stay engaged.
“We’ll see what happens. We’ll see if they’re as ready (Friday) as they were (Thursday). It might be easy to be fired up the day before a game, but we’ll see (Friday) if they’ve got their hard hats on and are ready to work and compete.”
No doubt the Pioneers will definitely need their hard hats against Broken Arrow, which lost to state runner-up Norman North in the state quarterfinals last year.
But Barnard said playing a tough team right out of the gate could actually help the Pioneers before the season starts — as long as Stillwater can stay injury free.
“I think it helps,” Barnard said. “The philosophy that I’ve felt and that I’ve believe for a long time is that you want to find out early where you’re at. If you schedule a bunch of easy opponents early and then get into the meat of your schedule, you may find areas where you didn’t know you had problems. We feel like this gives us a chance to see areas where we’re strong, see areas where we’re weak and improve on that.”
Barnard said there isn’t necessarily one thing that he’s really looking for when it comes to the team — instead opting to watch the team’s performance as a whole.
And while the familiar lights of Pioneer Stadium may eventually help the Pioneers once the initial butterflies wear off, Noble said there’s definitely going to be some nerves — although not as bad as last year, when Noble got his first unofficial start at Broken Arrow last season.
“It will be a lot better for the sophomores because they’re not thinking about it on the bus,” Noble said. “They just get to relax. Then we get to go out and show our home fans what we can finally do. ... It doesn’t hurt at all because if they can get a little glimpse of what our crowd will be like, that would be great for everybody.”
The games may not count in the record book and Stillwater may be very vanilla compared to what the team actually does in the season, make no mistake — the Pioneers are treating this as if it were an actual game.
“We treated this as a game week,” Noble said. “It’s been great because we’re working up for a common goal and that’s to go win on Friday nights. ... We’ve been going against each other in practice for a while and I think we’re ready to butt heads with somebody else.”