Tigers on tap: After extended preseason, Summit football opens season Friday at Salida (podcast) | SummitDaily.com

Tigers on tap: After extended preseason, Summit football opens season Friday at Salida (podcast)

His team lost several key players from last year, is currently learning a new offense and turned the ball over more than expected in its season-opening scrimmage.

But heading into the 2018 Colorado high school football season, Summit High head coach John Shirkey believes the Tigers are more prepared than either of the two previous iterations he's coached.

"We should be," Shirkey said after practice Wednesday. "We don't have as many excuses to not be ready."

After he assumed the Summit football head coaching role heading into the 2016 season, the Summit Tigers in 2016 and 2017 were only able to have two weeks of preseason practice before their season opener versus Salida. For Shirkey and his staff, it was a case of squeezing as much preparation into about 10 days of practice as possible. Essentially, the Tigers coaching staff had to treat the official season opener as the first opportunity to learn about their team in a real, competitive game setting.

But this year, with his squad able to open up practice on Aug. 6, it provided the coaching staff effectively an extra week to prepare for opening day.

On top of that, Shirkey and his staff were able to wrangle Evergreen and Basalt high schools to travel up to Summit County on Aug. 18 for a round-robin scrimmage format. Shirkey said all three teams were competitive with each other on a day where each team's offenses and defenses rotated in and out. Each offense was then given eight plays, starting, from their own 40-yard line, to attempt to score. The format was complete with officials and first downs and provided the kind of game-simulation experience Shirkey believes his young team sorely needed before Friday's 7 p.m. season opener at Salida.

What did Shirkey learn about his team from the scrimmage? Paramount, the head coach relayed, was that though this is a squad that still requires time to correct technical football mistakes, effort is not a problem. Shirkey, like any football coach, would prefer to not be in a situation where he and his staff have to coach up both fundamentals and effort. But the scrimmage showed his team has no problem bringing its A-effort and physicality when the ball is spotted versus someone else.

"That's an awesome spot to be as opposed to trying to get kids motivated and fired up," the head coach said.

As for where the Tigers — who finished 2017 with a 3-7 reacord — need to grow the most early in the season, Shirkey said it's not a secret to anyone within the program: Taking care of the football and avoiding penalties.

LISTEN: Summit High 2018 football captains Angel Arrendondo, Brendan Collins, Max Duxbury, Taylor Morgan, Noah Martens and Trice Scroggins preview the 2018 season

Throughout the Aug. 18 scrimmage Shirkey said his team committed several fumbles and was flagged for unnecessary false start and pass interference penalties. Though Shirkey knows some of that is to be expected earlier in the year, he also knows these kinds of mishaps plagued the Tigers last year.

And just like effort and winning can be contagious among a football program, he realizes penalties can become contagious too. In order to be successful this year, that possible development must be nipped in the bud.

"It has a tendency to snowball," Shirkey said. "The idea is that we've got to move on to the next play."

There were also positives from the scrimmage, namely the fact that his defense was flying around with desired physicality and consistently able to stop Basalt and Evergreen's offenses. Though the offense was sloppy in its execution at times, there was also the reality that this offense is further along in picking up of the new playbook than Shirkey and his staff expected.

"Beyond that," Shirkey added, "because we are young and graduated a lot of experience in terms of guys we were playing last year, part of it was seeing who wanted to play. Who was ready to play? That combination of mentally and physically, because when you have limited numbers, you can only see so much when playing against your own team."

With assistant coach Sean Mase stepping up into the full-time offensive coordinator role this season, Shirkey said he expects a more run-heavy split versus passing compared to 2017. With that, though, he credited senior projected-starting quarterback Brendan Collins with studiously learning the playbook inside and out and leading the offense this offseason and in preseason camp in memorizing just what needs to be done.

"He's a student of the game, a kid you love having on your team," Shirkey said of Collins. "Always prepared, always thinking about situational football. It's similar to having another coach out there, which is what you need out of your quarterback and captains."

As for where Summit High's fortune will be made or slayed this year, Shirkey pointed to the offensive and defensive lines, which will be anchored by versatile senior center and noseguard Taylor Morgan.

Come Friday night under the lights in Salida, the Tigers will be looking to avenge a season-opening setback to the same squad to start 2017. It'll be the rubber-match for Shirkey after he opened his time with Summit High in 2016 by defeating Salida on the road.

The third time around, the coach expects a competitive tilt. He also expects his Tigers to come out roaring with effort after three long weeks of hitting the familiar faces that are their teammates.

"First game, it's a little bit of an unknown," Shirkey said. "But I talked to them a little after practice today and, after three weeks, it's time to go play someone else."

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Summit Tigers varsity football

2018 schedule (all games on Fridays)

*Denotes league game (Home game)

Aug. 24 at Salida 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Moffat County 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 at Conifer 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 Woodland Park 7 p.m.

Sept. 21 Elizabeth (Homecoming) 6 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Battle Mountain* 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 Eagle Valley* 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 Steamboat* 7 p.m.

Oct. 26 at Glenwood* 7 p.m.

Nov. 2 Palisade* 7 p.m.