The Road to 10-0…

The Road to 10-0…

Blue Devils’ head coach reflects on team’s progress ahead of state playoffs

WM School District The transition from the wing-T to a spread offense wasn’t easy for the West Memphis Blue Devils. When Billy Elmore was hired in late April of 2014 to replace Lanny Dauksch as the team’s head coach, the learning curve was pretty steep, going from a ground-oriented offensive attack that was so good that Dauksch’s teams won eight consecutive conference championships and an electrifying three straight trips to the state championship game. Elmore’s version of the spread isn’t quite as reliant on the pass as other high school football coaches’, but he wants to balance the run and the pass between about 60 offensive snaps per game. That meant about 20 more pass plays per game than the athletes from West Memphis were used to. Elmore’s task was defined the first day he worked the team out in spring drills. Balls were plunking the receivers in the face. Now, in the last two seasons, the Blue Devils’ offensive strength lies in the team’s deep and talented receiving corps. It was on full display last week at Mountain Home as junior quarterback Owens McConnell needed only 7 completed passes to churn out 225 yards and 4 touchdowns in the team’s 35-7 win which clinched West Memphis’ first 6A-East Conference championship since 2011 and its first unbeaten regular season since 2009. The team will enjoy an off week on Friday night as the Class 6A state playoffs get underway with four firstround games. The Blue Devils (10-0) will host the winner of Friday night’s Pine Bluff at El Dorado game on Nov. 16 in the quarterfinals. It was a slow process to develop receivers capable of catching passes off difficult routes, but after year two of Elmore’s tenure it became quite clear that progression was being made. “Our guys didn’t rep catching the ball as much as we’re used to now, and that’s understandable,” Elmore explained. “The wing-T was very successful here, but our system is just different is the only way I can explain it. The more a kid catches the ball, the better he becomes at it. So we repped it a lot then and we rep it a lot now.” Last season, the Blue Devils’ go-to receiver was without question Steven Stone, who walked on at the University of Memphis this season. Stone caught 25 passes a year ago for 575 yards and 10 touchdowns. No one receiver will have that kind of yardage this season, but it’s because the Blue Devils’ strength is in quantity. Seniors Jimmy Phillips, Devin Olloway, Jatavius Tucker and Mason Kearney can all burn opposing defenses with their sure hands and their route efficiency. “If you key on one of those guys, that leaves someone else in single coverage and that would be very dangerous,” Elmore stated. The turnaround took time, but the work put in during practicesmadeitallpossible. “I think the biggest thing was we have a couple of JUGS machines that spit that ball out there extremely fast,” said Elmore. “Our kids utilize that tool well, even on their own. Our junior highs are also throwing the ball more during practices and in games. “I don’t think kids on their own don’t go outside and play like they used to, but I also think I can honestly say that athletes put more work in on their sports. The difference is it’s supervised now, whereas in the past kids did it recreationally and without adult supervision.” Elmore’s development of his receivers has reached a competitive point. “It’s to a level now that if you don’t catch a ball very well you go over to play defense,” he added. The receivers’ 32.14 yards per catch last week bears that out. “The proof’s in the numbers,” Elmore said. “Obviously, something’s going right.” The Blue Devils’ receivers coach, Rashad Jones, in his third year on the staff, started the receivers’ own Twitter handle @GMGWideouts (Get Money Gang). “That’s kind of like our brand and we use that to motivate ourselves in practice,” Jones said. “Every time we catch a touchdown pass we scream out ‘Get Money!’ The kids love it and we even have our own Get Money flag we hold up during games.” Like Elmore, Jones loves his group’s upside. “I got four solid wideouts that can catch the ball,” Jones added. “I’ve got full faith in them. They know the plays, they know the routes and they can catch the ball. Besides all that, they can get money for us.”

West Memphis head coach Billly Elmore has developed a strong corps of receivers the last two seasons.

Photo by Billy Woods

By Billy Woods