Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Bears maintaining focus against Fair

Leader sportswriter

Staying focused on this week’s opponent is what Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow wants his team to do this week in preparation for Friday’s 5A-Central Conference game at Little Rock Fair.

The Bears have steamrolled their competition through the first four weeks of regular-season play, and are off to a 4-0 start. Sylvan Hills opened conference play with a bang last week, dominating Mills University Studies from start to finish en route to a 63-21 win.

The War Eagles of Little Rock Fair haven’t experienced the same type of season. In fact, their season has gone the opposite direction. Fair is 0-4 on the year, and lost its conference opener 42-0 at Jacksonville last week.

Even though it’s human nature to look past such an opponent, Withrow says he’s going to do everything he canto ensure that his team doesn’t look past Friday’s game.

“The thing about our team is hammering down the fact that they have to play every game,” said Withrow. “If it looks good on paper and everything else that’s great, but handling ourselves like a mature team and getting ready to play, we need to do all of that.

“We only get 10 of these things. This isn’t baseball or basketball where you get 30 of them. You want to be prepared regardless of who you’re playing.”

Fair’s last win came in week one of last season – a 20-0 victory over North Pulaski.

The War Eagles are in their second year under head coach Roosevelt Turner, and this year’s group mostly consists of sophomores. Even though some coaches of teams that have played Fair this season say those players give a lot of effort, that much youth and losing tradition takes a lot of time and effort to overcome.

“The problem is when things go bad and you play those young guys, it goes bad fast,” Withrow said. “I don’t know what happened at Jacksonville the other night. I know coach (Mike) Malham thought they played hard, but they’re really young.

“That’s the thing about it – when you’re playing a lot of sophomores that changes a lot of things.”

Withrow said, on offense, Fair gets in the I formation quite a bit, and will mix some shotgun into its play-calling as well. Withrow said the War Eagles’ skill players have noticeable speed, and will try to run the ball with those skill players.

Withrow expects his offense to see a three-man front the majority of the snaps Friday night, but added that Fair may line up with four down linemen at times throughout the game.

“They were kind of multiple in what they did,” Withrow said, “but mostly a three-man front, and they like to blitz and get after you a little bit. It’s a lot of the same stuff we’ve seen the last three weeks. Hopefully it’s something that we’ve adjusted to and know what’s coming, so hopefully we’ll be ready for it.”

As far as where his team is at in its progression this season, Withrow said he’s pleased with what he’s seen from his Bears thus far, especially the steady improvement they’ve shown each week.

But he added that he wants that steady improvement to continue, and he wants his players to stay focused on Fair and no other team this week.

“I’m pleased with where we’re at,” Withrow said. “The objective was to win the games, but the thing about it is we’ve improved in everything we’ve done. Even with all the points we’ve scored we know there are still things we need to improve upon.

“Defensively, we’ve talked the whole time about we’re going to get better each week, and we need to keep improving each week. The thing that we don’t want to get into is a letdown. We’ve got to keep coaching. We’ve got to keep pushing, and the kids have got to keep doing what we’re preaching.

“We understand that there could be bigger games in the future, but we don’t look at it that way. We need to get ready now for Fair. That’s probably not what everybody wants me to say, but that’s where we’re at. We’ve got to get ready for today.”

Kickoff Friday is at 7 p.m.