Staying accountable… Cyclones facing a different type of adversity in defense of state football title

Published 11:53 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Elizabethton Cyclones were coming off one of the best seasons every in their storied football history going 15-0 and claiming the 2019 Class 4A BlueCross Bowl State Championship in Cookeville to cap off the season.
After claiming all their accolades and recognition, the team jumped right back into work realizing what now needed to be done to reach the apex of prep football.
Conditioning and weight lifting were viewed as a way of life and enjoyment versus just another day of drudgery as the Cyclones still had the taste of what it is to be a champion still swishing freshly in their mouth.
Then out of nowhere, an adversary snuck into the camp in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result, the team that had been accustomed to doing everything together has now been separated with the expectations that the work must continue on from an individual standpoint.
“We had great momentum coming off that state championship,” said Cyclone head coach Shawn Witten. “The guys witnessed what it took to get there and our young guys were getting bigger, stronger, and faster.
“The guys were working out because they understood the formula.”
Now with school being out heading into the fourth week, that normalcy has been turned upside down on its head and it has caused the Cyclone mentor entering his 14th season to revamp how he now must coach a team using technological platforms to do so.
“I have been sending out tweets and texts to reach out to the guys,” Witten said. “I want to make sure that they are staying motivated and self-determined while remaining self-motivated to be committed to what they should be doing.
“Each and every player needs to be held accountable. We have been posting different workouts to do at home. I know that everybody doesn’t have the same home. Some of the kids may not have jump ropes and dumbbells, but they need to be creative while staying active and enjoying the weather.”
Witten has challenged his team to hit the bike trails and hiking trails because inevitable the team will be tested in the heat. The coach knows that even when his team cannot stay on top of the strength level, the conditioning level will remain an important ingredient to the recipe of another successful season.
The Cyclones have their entire starting offensive line returning this season with three seniors and two juniors to go along with eight defensive starters.
Added to that is a couple of new players that have been added to the program and a returning sophomore class of 30 players that came in as freshmen in the 2019 season and a strong group of incoming freshmen from a T.A. Dugger team that won a share of the middle school championship in 2019.
With a team of 70 players, Witten knows it is critical to being able to spend time with his team especially from a relationship standpoint.
“We are going to have to build relationships and trust faster as coaches,” Witten said. “Everybody will need to be pushed to a certain level. It’s hard for us to see the improvements and gains that the guys are making but one thing that we want to make sure to do is to help them work on their self-confidence.
“People saw the difference in their body type and the confidence they took the field with last season and it just kept growing with each game. It’s very important to have team building and team bonding.”
Anyone that knows Coach Witten knows the level of work that he puts into his profession and with the current status, makes it difficult for him to accomplish the things that he feels is important especially heading into a new season and having 11 seniors graduate.
“It really takes a lot because you try to build your team based on the strength on each individual,” Witten commented. “You try to get the players to trust you for sure.
“There are young guys on the team that I haven’t had time to work with and build relationships with. It makes it tough because you want to find out what the things they like to do and what goals they want to achieve.
“I just try to communicate with them daily and try to encourage them,” Witten continued. “The guys know what they have to do. The coaches are staying in constant contact as well because we know how fast we will have to go when we get back together and it’s important they know what they will be doing each day because went the day comes, we have to each day planned for.”
No one is even for sure yet if there will even be football in the fall or if the season will be shortened. The TSSAA will definitely have its hands full in trying to come up with an acceptable plan for all schools that participate in football should the season have to be shortened.
But for right now, all Coach Witten is concerned about is making sure his team stays focused and working on the things that help lead to an opportunity to defend their state title despite the imposing opponent they now face.

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