Lions in waiting – Briarwood takes unique approach to pregame

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Early in his coaching career, Fred Yancey used to demand silence from his players in the hours leading up to a game on Friday nights.

There was no talking, no distractions, only concentration on what was to play out on the football field later that evening.

&uot;For years, I had my teams get their mind on the game and it was almost like they were going to war,&uot; Yancey said.

But during his first year at Briarwood Christian School, several of his top athletes didn’t respond so well to the rigid atmosphere. By pregame warm-ups, tension had built up enough in some of the players to provoke a running satirical joke.

&uot;They started laughing saying that we lost another warm-up,&uot; Yancey said.

Ever since, Yancey has taken a more laid back approach, allowing his players to prepare on gameday with whatever style best suits their individual tastes.

Last Friday afternoon, as the defending 5A state champions prepared for their matchup with 6A foe Thompson High, music blared through the headphones of several players getting suited up in the locker room. Others sat in the team room where the soundtrack to football highlight tapes spilled out into the hallway.

Highlight tapes are brought out before each game – last year’s state championship season is a current favorite – where players watch edited clips from years past set to energy-charged tunes.

&uot;That does inspire them and get them fired up,&uot; Yancey said.

The atmosphere is still far from rowdy, but it’s a long way from the days of laying around in silence staring at the locker room walls.

There are still those who prefer the more traditional approach to pregame, and Yancey said his players have always been good about grouping together with like-minded teammates to respect those who might like things a bit more quiet.

Either way is fine with Yancey, as long as his players take the field ready to play.

&uot;We know they care. We don’t worry about whether they are going to hustle and work hard,&uot; he said. &uot;So now I’m just trying to get them in the right frame of mind to enjoy playing the game of football.&uot;

The foundation supporting that framework is laid early in the week when Yancey works to prepare his team for its upcoming opponent. Monday through Thursday is spent covering the game plan and working out any offensive and defensive schemes that might be used on Friday night.

All team meetings are held Thursday, so players may leave after school Friday to get something to eat or go home for some quick rest.

&uot;We usually go over to (defensive end) Andrew McCain’s house and his Mom will cook us some food,&uot; said senior receiver Charles Hoke, one of the county’s top prospects.

&uot;We just kind of chill over there for a little while and then come back up to the school pretty early and kind of take our time to get ready.&uot;

McCain, an Auburn commitment, said he starts to focus early but stays reserved until just before kickoff.

&uot;I tend to get pretty nervous so I try to keep it laid back for as long as I can,&uot; McCain said. &uot;Once game time gets closer I get a little excited but I think if you do that too early you’re going to wear yourself out before the game gets here.&uot;

The laid-back style carries over to the bus ride, where junior quarterback Tanner Gell tossed a football in the front seat on the way to James L. Simmons Field Friday night.

&uot;Before the game I try not to think about,&uot; Gell said. &uot;Getting nervous is probably the worst thing I can do.&uot;

Once the team arrived and got accustomed to the locker room, Yancey called his seniors outside for a ritual that he has carried out since early in the 1990s.

Briarwood’s 18 senior players lock arms in a circle for &uot;Seniors Only,&uot; where each takes a turn praying for the player on his left.

After that the team hits the field for warm-ups, where Yancey allows pretty much any routine the players choose to get loose. After coming together as a team to break, the players head back to the locker room for pregame speeches.

Briarwood rotates its senior captains during the regular season, so that each player gets a turn at the traditional pregame speech. During the playoffs, permanent captains are elected.

The style and mood of the speech is entirely up to each player.

Kicker David Elmer and guard Josh Black gave their speeches before the Thompson game.

&uot;Some actually get up there and it’s like they are doing a comedy routine,&uot; Yancey said. &uot;They hoop and holler. Sometimes it’s real serious, other times it’s just hilarious and sometimes it’s real fiery and inspirational.&uot;

Whatever methods have been used, the Lions have become a force during Yancey’s tenure, winning 142 games and three state titles in his 15 seasons at Briarwood