Jag football needs to focus on football part

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Sports writers at community newspapers rarely call for the firing or non-rehire of a coach, especially in the middle of a season. I see no reason to buck that trend.

Having watched three Valencia High football games in consecutive weeks, there are some definite fundamental areas in which the young Jaguar lineup is lacking. I know first-year head coach Kevin Jolley is taking heat for things that happened in the past several months (or didn’t happen), and some of the team’s shortcomings, it seems, cannot be blamed squarely on inexperience.

However, I’m not going to encourage anyone to approach, second-guess or berate Jolley, in private or in public, in ways that take the focus away from the game on the field. There’s a lot of football yet to be played this season, and there’s a reason coach performance reviews are done after the season — not after a few games.

The Jaguars’ humbling 40-6 loss Thursday Sept. 20 to Atrisco Heritage Academy highlighted a number of shortcomings. Penalties, fumbles, blocking, pursuit, you name it — Valencia struggles in all facets. But that is not reason enough to have an active dialogue about how good of a job Jolley is doing, or his skill level as a coach.

By writing this column, I realize I am drawing attention to a coach in mid-season in a way that can be part of the distraction I seek to eliminate. But I am doing this so I can implore fans to re-focus on the kids. The players have trained most of their lives, in many cases, for the opportunity to play under the lights on the varsity’s big stage. They deserve to have the limelight placed on them, not on whether the adults in their lives have prepared them well for this moment.

As a fan, I can see the things Valencia can and cannot do. The penalties alone show both lack of discipline and perhaps having not yet mastered the plays. And no Class 4A offensive and defensive lines should be pushed around the way opponents have done to the Jaguars.

These and other issues are issues that hopefully are (or will be) discussed between Jolley and Los Lunas Schools Athletic Director Wilson Holland. If your boss wants to give you static about the way you do your job, that seems natural, but no all of us have thousands of people sitting above us when we perform our jobs. End-of-season evaluations are meant to address issues that cannot be thoroughly fixed during the week between games.

In the meantime, there is plenty that Valencia players can do to place the focus back on the field.

For the Jaguar players, yes, there are a number of things the team does not have that Kelley Lee’s 2009, 2010 and 2011 teams seemed to possess.

Strength is one of those elements. Lee is known for his emphasis on weights; he practically produced an off-Broadway production showcasing the lifting.

In the Sept. 14 Artesia game, I saw one of the Jags’ biggest linemen picked up and tossed aside by a smaller opponent. This should never happen.

I don’t know exactly how much lifting the Jags did in the off-season, and it doesn’t matter at this point. If the boys are losing battles based on lack of strength, I would hope pride would drag them into a weight room at every available chance, and that the players would try to get stronger as quickly as is safely and practically possible.

As for dumb penalties, such as lining up offside on consecutive plays, to me, it’s tough to blame a coach for that — especially a few weeks into the season.

Yes, there are not many seniors on the team, and Jolley has decided not to appoint captains. That’s why it’s up to each individual player to take responsibility for himself, and progressively become a better and more disciplined athlete.

Jaguars, forget about me and the fans and Facebook and the message boards. You have a job to do. Maybe there are administrative changes that need to take place later, but for now, life is still happening — four quarters at a time.


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.