The Highlanders got a small part of their offense and defensive systems put into place before capping their allotted amount of spring dates with a scrimmage at Happy Valley. The team concluded drills with a transition into their summer strength and conditioning program.
All-in-all, there was a lot of work and learning by the players and staff in the initial phase of the transition.
“The kids were working hard and there was a lot of learning going on with the new system and everything, but overall we took a big step forward in a short period of time,” Pittman said “That was the main goal and I think we accomplished it. We have a lot of work to do, don’t get me wrong, but it went better than I actually expected it to go.
“As far as the kids, they’re exactly what you want as a coach. Whenever I talked, they listened. They were all eyes and ears. You can just tell they want to win so bad and I really believe we have enough talent to do that right away. I don’t say that to sound cocky or anything, but I was very pleased and surprised with the amount of talent on the team. It would be one thing if we were really slow and non-athletic without any linemen. The truth is we have linemen, we have skill kids and it’s on me to keep them healthy.”
There were several adjustments made to the football squad over the course of spring drills as several linebackers and skill players were shifted into different positions in what Pittman feels will give Cloudland a better chance to win on the gridiron.
“We moved some linebackers to defensive line,” Pittman said. “We moved some running backs and fullbacks to offensive line. When you do that kind of thing, it’s a touchy situation with kids. From the start, I told the kids that every decision we’d make was what was best for the team. We made some moves and we’re still going to be making some moves, but the kids have been awesome about accepting their roles and trying out some new things.
“Honestly, I think we did some good things movement-wise with some positions in the spring. There’s a huge difference in how we looked at the beginning and how we looked when we made some changes.”
When the team begins fall workouts, there will be a new starting quarterback in Jeffrey Rhinehart, who transferred last spring from West Greene. Rhinehart started two years under center for the Buffaloes and had success in both the passing and ground games, something Pittman was looking for in a quarterback for his new system.
“Jeffrey is going to be a great quarterback,” said Pittman. “He is a tough, tough kid. I think we only threw the ball three times in that scrimmage — he’s got full ability to throw the ball — but I was impressed with how he ran with the ball.
“He’s a hard runner. You can hear his footsteps hit the ground when he runs with the football. I was really pleased with that. He was what I was looking for in a quarterback in this offense. I can’t complain any at all about that.”
The addition of Rhinehart into the program allows Cloudland to fully shift standout athlete Taylor Whitehead into the tailback slot.
“With Jeffery and Taylor in the backfield, we’ve got two good running backs back there and that’s the key,” the coach said. “Taylor is a hard-nosed kid. He is tough as nails. He runs hard with the ball. We didn’t turn the ball over at all and that was important. He’s got some speed when he gets through that second level and he can run with it. The speed, overall, is another thing. We’ve got some speed all over the place in the right spots.”
As far as the changes to the line are concerned, Pittman felt the offensive line adapted well to the changes and additions.
“The offensive line, it wasn’t perfect, but those guys were coming off the ball and going where they were supposed to go and blocking who they were supposed to block,” he said. “We were really athletic up front and that was a key. I was really impressed with the offensive line and how fast they were able to pick up the new offense. They picked it all up pretty quick and everything looked smooth out there.”
Pittman saw some good things from his team in its scrimmage against Happy Valley. There were mistakes, he said, but the team had some success and that was a key.
“I was real pleased with how they performed,” said Pittman. “There were a lot of mistakes made and that’s normal, but overall, with what little amount of stuff we were able to put in offensively and teach the kids their responsibility on defense, I was happy with the way that everything went.
“More importantly, the kids were really happy with the way everything went. We got off on a really good foot. Me with them and them with me. The main thing I wanted was for the kids to have some success in that scrimmage versus a school that’s a little bit bigger and everything and they did that.”
The Highlanders spent their last day adjusting to a new strength and conditioning program, which Pittman hopes to have a key role in once he and his family make the move from Virginia.
“It’s a difficult strength and conditioning program,” he said. “I can’t wait to get down there, then I can see who’s working and who’s not working and get some motivation going on some of the kids. If you want to win, you can’t just show up and win. You have to pay the price.”
If the Highlanders continue to deliver upon its strong spring results, one can expect Pittman and staff will key a big turnaround from a 1-9 season a year ago this fall.