Every time the Amherst Tigers go in and leave their locker room, each player passes by a giant banner that says, “Bring Your ‘A’ Game”, the ‘A’ not only standing for your best but also representing Amherst High School.
For head coach Jason Beckman, it’s the motto the Tigers will live by this season.
“We really feel like when the guys put on the jersey or helmet with the ‘A’ on it, that it’s a symbol of how you do things,” Beckman said. “It represents hustling on and off the field, working hard in the offseason, being respectful and bringing your best.”
Two guys who have been bringing their ‘A’ game during the first week of the practice are juniors Jakye Womack and D’Shaun Barefield.
Womack and Barefield were part of a young Amherst team (2-7, 1-5 Class A North) last year that started the season with only two starters that had varsity starting experience.
Combined with the fact the Tigers have had one of their strongest offseasons in years, Beckman believes the Tigers are much farther along than they were last year.
“What a difference a year makes,” Beckman said. “We have at least 25 percent of our starting lineup from last year, that certainly helps. We’re ahead of where we at this time last year.”
Womack was a given the starting quarterback position last year as a sophomore and ran the Tigers’ triple-offense well. He threw for 382 yards and ran for 209 yards in 2016.
Beckman was impressed with Womack last year and is expecting bigger things from him this year.
“He embraced that leadership role last year and he continues to develop that. He’s the kind of guy where if somebody is not getting in the huddle the way they should he makes sure to respond to it,” Beckman said. “He has some natural leadership skills.”
The Tigers plan to run a quicker offense this year that will take advantage of their speed in the backfield.
“We alleviated a lot of the thinking our players have to do,” Beckman said. “We want our guys to be athletes when they take the field. That should make us faster.”
Barefield was the Tigers’ leading rusher last year running for 485 yards and nine touchdowns.
The running back admitted he had trouble controlling his emotions at times last year. It’s something Barefield knows he must take care of in order to be a good leader.
“I learned how to keep my anger under control,” Barefield said. “I always had conflicts going with my teammates. This year I need to keep it under control.”
Beckman has known Barefield since the sixth grade and has enjoyed watching him grow and mature over the years.
“D’Shaun has a lot of natural ability,” Beckman said. “He has a great burst of speed. I’m looking forward to his continued development.”
Amherst is also looking for a big impact from returning starters, seniors Brandon Fowler, Calik Kennedy and Mijah Bland.
Fowler will be key at both wide receiver and cornerback this year.
Kennedy and Bland will bring experience to both the offensive and defensive lines.
Joining them on the line is sophomore Ryan Bitka. He will be counted on at center and nose tackle for the Tigers. Bitka wrestled at 220 pounds on the varsity level as a freshman.
Beckman doesn’t take for granted the importance of getting the ball off and feels he can count on Bitka to do the job.
“He put in a great offseason,” Beckman said. “We have a multiple set offense, so to have a center that can reliably snap the ball in both situations is important. He’s very consistent with it.”
Due to division realignment, the Tigers will move from the Class A North division to the south division this year.
Beckman is looking for his team to strive for greatness in 2017. But greatness is not something that happens overnight, it’s something that must be worked for every single day.
“We keep telling the guys ‘being great isn’t do one little thing and all the sudden I’ll be great’,” Beckman said. “It’s about being great at the little things along the way.”