Like every other team, West Ouachita’s main priority this summer has been staying healthy.

And so far through the preseason, the Chiefs have been successful in doing so. Lighter practices were a major goal for head coach Matt Middleton and his staff heading into the new season. But West Ouachita has sacrificed a little bit of its physical identity in the process, which became evident in scrimmages against Richwood and Carroll last Friday night.

“I thought we competed well (in the scrimmage), and we played hard. But the toughest thing for us is we had a bunch of missed tackles,” Middleton said. “We had a lot of pressure, but we had a lot of those missed tackles.” 

Maintaining the balance of keeping that gritty, physical mentality while also staying healthy has been the key to West Ouachita’s entire offseason. It’s what Middleton’s bunch must do to be competitive in 5A ball. But Middleton didn’t mince words. West Ouachita will ramp up that physicality at practice ahead of Friday night’s jamboree against Winnfield. It’s a must. 

“We’re going to have to get back to some live tackle stuff,” Middleton said. “We have to get that fixed. We don’t want to beat on ourselves daily and hurt our depth, but we still have to be a sound football team.” 

The Chiefs’ opponent Friday will debut its new offense under former Mangham head coach Tommy Tharp, who made his way to Winnfield as the school’s new offensive coordinator this summer. Fans familiar with Mangham’s dragon-wing offense can expect to see a Winnfield squad that tries to eat clock and yardage with misdirection. 

In order to beat teams like Winnfield’s, it will require a sound defensive effort, and with this contest coming one week from the season opener, you couldn’t ask for a better scenario if you’re Middleton. 

“I’m very happy about where we’re at offensively, and I expect to pick it up defensively this Friday,” Middleton said. 

Middleton said you could expect to see both quarterbacks — Brady Ryals and Brendon Crawford — in action this Friday. 

The junior varsity will kick off the jamboree at 6 p.m. at West Ouachita High School before the varsity teams hit the field. 

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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