Keeping it simple… Cyclones changing culture in seeking second straight win over ‘Toppers

Published 6:00 am Thursday, August 22, 2019


Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten and his team have been preparing for Friday night’s game against Science Hill starting a week after the 2018 prep football season came to an end.
After working to rebrand the identity of the 2019 Cyclones, fans will get their first glimpse as the Cyclones travel to Kermit Tipton Stadium in a season opener that highlights the first week of prep football in Tennessee.
Witten is counting on a change of culture within his program to help carry his Cyclones to their second consecutive win over the Hilltoppers.
“We have a lot of new faces out on our football team. The guys have worked extremely hard in the offseason and summer preparations and I think that our guys are really prepared,” Witten stated.
“We have spent a lot of time building self-confidence and changing our bodies and our mindset and re-establishing our culture. Last year was a different year for us. We had graduated a lot of linemen and we passed the ball tremendously a lot. 
“For us, we have new quarterbacks,” continued Witten. “We have quite a few new linemen that have stepped up and spent a lot of time redeveloping our line of scrimmage.
“Stan Ogg has retired as the defensive coordinator so a lot of things are new.
“We are going into year 13 together and this game always gives us a big confidence boost whether we win or lose. It sets us up for the rest of the season. We have done well to hang in there with Science Hill.”
Going into the new season, Witten admitted that the Cyclones are a team that hasn’t really identified whom they are going to be as a team in the 2019 season but feels that as the season progresses, all of that will take care of itself.
“It (identity) will work itself out through the season,” Witten said. “Right now, there are three ways we can go offensively as our identity.
“We have to win the kicking game and two we have to be known for how hard we play on defense.
“The biggest areas of improvement for us has to be linebacker play. We return all those guys inside and out. We feel like that Jordan Haynes, Deuce Morton, Remington Tyree, and LaDarian Avery have been in our program and they understand our schemes,” Witten added.
“That area last year was really inconsistent. We just didn’t make enough plays.
“And then there’s our offensive line. We have recreated our identity back to what we have been known for. We have great size and great continuity among our six guys on the offensive line.
“Connor Johnson started every game as a freshman. Cole Morganstern started every game as a sophomore. Colby Garland, Wes Erwin, and Dakota Christian have got many snaps and Tyree at tight end–the cohesion amongst that group where they have really worked hard together and jelled along with Owen Slagle is huge for us.
“We feel like we have six or seven guys that have bought into re-establishing our line. We have to get back to being balanced on offense.”
With the graduation of quarterback Carter Everett and Mr. Everything Corey Russell, it looks to be offense by committee as several players will be looked at to making the plays to carry the Cyclones throughout the season.
We have dual-threat quarterbacks,” said Witten referring to senior Cade Maupin and sophomore Bryson Rollins. “Right now we have about half a dozen skill guys that have to touch the football and make plays for us. The game for us is going to be won on the line of scrimmage.”
Witten and his coaching staff realized that by spending more time in the weight room to get bigger that another area would have to suffer and elected to work to increase their physicality while making everything else more simple for the players to handle.
“We have tried to focus on keeping things simple schematically wise. When you spend more time in the weight room that’s less time on the field. We have tried to spend less time worrying about our identity is and just say that we are going to line up and play,” Witten stated.
“We need to play to our guy’s advantages and work on their weaknesses. We want to play to our strengths and put them in positions to make plays using their God-given talents in what they have worked so hard on.
“We want to just simply things and not be too complex and let them figure things out,” Witten added. “The better talent you are the less you have to do. That’s the thing with us right now is we are trying to keep things simple.
“We have a number of two-way players and so defensively they can’t retain too much and miss too much time going from one position to the other. 
Even when you are breaking in new quarterbacks you need to keep things simple. Communication and allowing them to play to what they know and what they feel comfortable with.”
Witten was asked what would be the key for the Cyclones to take a win in Johnson City on Friday night.
“I think the line of scrimmage has to be won by us,” Witten commented. “Science Hill has graduated a lot off their offensive line. We have known for years how big they are upfront. Any time you go into this game, you always worry about the depth because you don’t want to run out of gas in the fourth quarter toward the end.
“Our best players are going to play 80 to 90 snaps while their stud running back is going to play 40 or 50 and will always be fresh and ready to go.
“We got to know what we are doing with the football and make good decisions. We have to be decisive and we have to be in attack mode and not allow any confusion or hesitation at all. We have to stay in attack mode and keep the hammer down.”
With big games such as the Science Hill game to open with, Witten was asked if he lays in bed at night going through all the ‘X’s and “O’s and wondering if anything has been missed.
“Even with having an extra week of preparation, it seems like you need another one. The thing in football that’s hard for coaches is there are so many situations. There’s safeties, penalties, and so many situations during the course of the game that takes place. You want to make sure you cover it all and wonder how much they will be able to retain and know,” Witten stated.
“You just want to be sound. There are some situations that you prepare for that will never come up and you just have to be ready. It’s tough to do with a young football team because it’s going to be so loud and filled with so much emotion.
“It’s going to happen so fast so we have to be simple and true to who we are. We will have to let our best football players go and make the plays.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm and as always seating will go quickly. Fans are encouraged to show up early and have been asked by the Cyclone Touchdown Club to make it a white-out game as the Cyclones will be in their visitor white for the contest.

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