As the final player walked out of the football coaches’ office at Airline High School following Thursday’s practice, head coach Bo Meeks said, “Hey, I love you man.”
“I love you, too, coach,” the player said, 24 hours before a Vikings scrimmage against Benton and two weeks prior to the start of the 2016 season.
Football is back, but love never left the Airline locker room.
“The longer I coach – we always want to win, but you see just how important it is to build strong men – that’s what we want to do,” Vikings head coach Bo Meeks said.
Team chemistry, cohesiveness and a palpable sense of brotherhood will be crucial for the Vikings, who return no starters on offense and face a stout District 1-5A schedule.
“That’s a first,” Meeks said of his empty cupboard of returning offensive starters. “But even though we don’t have any starters coming back, we have guys who got some experience last year and made some plays for us.”
Although Airline certainly has immediate issues to address as they’re two weeks from the season opener, it’s impossible not to look down the road at the final month of the season. The Vikings finish with 1-5A foes Haughton, Evangel, Byrd and Parkway.
Senior linebacker Josh James admits the late-season schedule already has the Vikings’ attention.
“We try to look at it going 1-0 day by day, but yeah, we look forward to it,” James said. “We’re preparing for it right now.’”
James and cornerback D’Kameron White lead a defensive unit that returns eight starters and is expected to carry the weight while the offense finds its identity.
“I don’t know if there’s anything that prepares you for the last three weeks, but we’re going to do everything to be prepared,” Meeks said. “We’re going to have to be mentally tough for sure. The gauntlet at the end of the season allows us to grow each week, but the rest of our schedule is good, too. We have to play great defense early.”
Whether the times are tough or successful early, the Vikings will be there for one another.
“The best thing about this team is hearing coach Meeks motivate everybody,” senior running back Brian Fielding said. “That rubs off on the whole team. Everybody loves each other, cares about each other. It’s a family. Some people may not have a good situation at home, but they come up here and they know everybody has their back.”
James has no doubt the Vikings can parlay the atmosphere inside the locker room into their performances on the field.
“We look out for one another, even in practice — we’re not taking dirty licks on each other,” James said. “It’s not a rivalry, but more of a brotherhood.”
James relishes the task to help make the defense shoulder the load early.
“We’re some dogs,” he said. “We love to hit and we have a lot of speed, a lot of speed – especially in the secondary. We like to get physical. We like to get at it.
“The most important thing will be sticking together and playing our ball — don’t go to their kind of game. We need to stick to us.”
2015 record: 7-4, lost in first round of Class 5A playoffs
Coach: Bo Meeks
Quotable: “We try to look at it going 1-0 day by day, but yeah, we look forward to it. We’re preparing for it right now.’”
–Linebacker Josh James on the finish to the Vikings’ 1-5A schedule.
Key game: Evangel, Oct. 21. After facing Haughton the week before, Airline gets the Eagles prior to finishing with Byrd and Parkway. How much will the offense grow by then?
Returning starters: Offense 0, defense 8
Players to watch: Brian Fielding, RB; Brad Fream, QB; Josh James, LB ; Drew Brewster, DE; Josh Smith, DL; D’Kameron White, CB/RB; Malik Britt, WR; Coby Mcgee, WR.
Sept. 2 at Union Parish
Sept. 9 Green Oaks
Sept. 16 Ruston
Sept. 23 at Southwood (LH)
Sept. 30 Captain Shreve
Oct. 7 Mansfield
Oct. 14 Haughton
Oct. 21 Evangel
Oct. 28 at Byrd (LH)
Nov. 4 at Parkway
Union Parish W, 21-0
Green Oaks W, 62-6
Ruston W, 42-27
Southwood W, 45-0
Captain Shreve W, 56-21
Mansfield W, 44-0
Haughton W, 37-21
Evangel L, 7-37
Byrd L, 21-35
Parkway L, 0-28
Ponchatoula L, 17-21