Wildcats ready for combo of football, school

By Jeff Nations

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County High School football coach Tony Tallent worries plenty about clock management, but not in the way you might think.

Sure, the Wildcats coach is always aware of how many ticks are left on that scoreboard clock on game night, but right now his preoccupation of time has more to do with the start of the school year. Warren County opened classes this morning, meaning Tallent’s players will be operating on an entirely different schedule now.

“My biggest concern is the transition from all football to school and football,” Tallent said. “The biggest challenge facing us is when we get to the classroom tomorrow at 8:30, just kids getting used to the rigors of a full school day and also having practice. You’re going to get here at 8 o’clock and you’re going to be going home not too far from that, so you’re talking 11-hour days at least. That transition is always a challenge.”

Following that full day of classes, Tallent’s team gathers for a meeting, watches a bit of film, then hits the practice field. Plus, there’s weight training to work in somewhere. For the players, it’s a full day and then some, and Tallent tries to stay on top of making sure his players aren’t overwhelmed with commitments.

“It’s just a high-paced, hectic time,” Tallent said.

NEW FACES, NEW PLACES: When Josh Mallicoat looks down the offensive line on Friday night for the Wildcats’ season opener against arch-rival Skyline, he’ll see an entirely different set of faces from the unit he worked with last season. He’d be looking in a different direction, too, after having shifted from right guard to left tackle for this season. That’s simple enough, Mallicoat maintained, it’s just “flipping the other way.”

As for the newly rebuilt offensive line, Mallicoat said the group is coming along.

“The biggest obstacle was the experience factor because I’m the only returning starter on the offensive line,” Mallicoat said. “It’s starting to click, though, so we’re starting to do pretty well.”

Mallicoat’s workload is increasing this year, as he’s slated to start at defensive tackle after not playing on that side of the ball last season. He’s one of an entirely new starting group on the defensive line. Tallent said both groups are still coming together.

“There’s still multiple spots that we’re trying to see who’s going to either start or provide depth, on both the offensive and defensive lines,” Tallent said. “That’s an area of concern for us right now, but I feel like a lot of kids are working hard and they still see a challenge to get some playing time in there.”

The Wildcats aren’t lacking options, which is a good thing. Warren County has a deep roster, just not much starting experience on the line. Although only four Wildcats will start along the defensive line, Tallent regularly employs a rotation that utilizes at least eight players in those spots. The offensive line is much the same.

“Normally, you’ve got five spots on the offensive line, you want seven,” Tallent said. “Obviously you need a second center and you need somebody who can swing down the line. A lot of times you’re trying to find eight so that you can have somebody who’s good at guard on both sides and play some tackle.”

TAKING CHARGE: Warren County has the unenviable task of replacing reigning Evergreen District Offensive Player of the Year Tyler Post, a four-year starter at quarterback who graduated this past spring. Post might have taken the lion’s share of the snaps, but Austin Butler did see some game experience last year in a backup role. He’s the starter now, and that game experience will start piling up soon.

“He’s doing a great job,” Tallent said. “He’s been a very solid quarterback. It’s been a nice transition.”

“Every practice, he’s made us more comfortable with him and with the offense,” Tallent added. “Robert Rutherford’s done a great job when he’s been in there, so I feel as comfortable with our quarterback situation as I have in any year that I’ve been here.”

Warren County wide receiver Jontae Rollins, accustomed to catching passes from Post, said Butler is up to the challenge of taking over as the leader of the Wildcats’ offense this season. Rollins said Butler, a senior, brings plenty of energy on the field and has a knack for scrambling out of trouble.

“Austin’s doing very, very well,” Rollins said. “Coming into the season, that’s probably the No. 1 thing people were thinking, ‘Who’s going to replace Tyler Post?’ Austin is doing really well and he’s fitting in with the new offense that we have. Austin’s going to be fine.”

Butler isn’t sure how much his limited game experience at quarterback last year has helped, but serving as Post’s understudy for the past couple seasons has definitely been a plus.

“He’s taught me a lot of things, how to control a varsity huddle, a varsity offense,” Butler said. “It’s going well for me, honestly, because of what he taught me. I’m doing what I have to do to control the team, and a lot of that comes from him.”

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>