Dixon: Cougars ‘playing really hard;’ C’burg up next

Sophomore running back Trevor Burton carries the mail for Pulaski County on this play last Saturday against Hidden Valley. Burton carried seven times for 23 yards. (Antonio Nottingham/PC Touchdown Club)

 

The 2-0 Pulaski County Cougars will take to the road for the second time in three games tonight (Friday) to face the Christiansburg Blue Demons.

The Blue Demons are coming off a season-opening loss to Salem, 35-13.

Despite the lopsided score, Cougar Head Coach Mark Dixon is impressed with what he saw on film of the Blue Demons.

“I’m impressed.  Really good up front on both sides of the ball. I thought they matched with Salem really well up front. You can see that program coming together,” Dixon said.

He credited the job Christiansburg Head Coach Alex Wilkens is doing. “He’s done a tremendous job. They’re a handful,” Dixon said, noting he’s known Wilkens for a while.

As for his Cougars, Dixon is pleased with the start of the season as far as results go (42-0 over Cave Spring and 48-7 over Hidden Valley). But he’s far from satisfied.

“We’re playing really hard. The effort part is good, the discipline in terms of the penalties and all that. That could improve some. We’re getting no bad penalties like unsportsmanlike or any of that, so the things we can control we’re controlling pretty well. It’s just not where we need to be though,” he said.

The Cougars were charged with ten penalties in the game last Saturday – the home opener vs. Hidden Valley.

“There are penalties when you’re playing hard that are fine, and there’s pre-snap penalties and that’s what’s getting us right now – the ones that we can control,” said Dixon.

He blames much of that on the crazy year we’re having with COVID with fall football becoming spring football.

“I was surprised in our first game that we didn’t have more penalties. The second game was, I thought, what I was expecting in the first game.

The pre-snap stuff, we have got to eliminate that.”

Dixon believes that with the weather improving, things will improve in the flag area.

“I think that’s the biggest thing. Going out yesterday – I didn’t think we’d be able to – how important that is. I think that’s why we’re sloppy at times. Just to use the equipment up there [on the practice field] would certainly help our offensive line on their blocking. It’s critically important that we get as many days outside as we can from now on,” the coach said.

One area Dixon has been very pleased with has been the defense.

“I think our skill kids on defense have been really good. I’m impressed with our hand-eye coordination, that surprised me. Just our ability to cover people has been really impressive. The plays we’re making on the ball, a couple pick-six’s, some interceptions – that has been super impressive,” Dixon said.

A former offensive lineman in college at Virginia and in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, Dixon is both head coach and offensive line coach at PCHS.

He hasn’t been totally happy with how his O-line has played so far this season.

“It’s a brand new system. The first game we played was against an odd front so that was one defense, and the very next week it was all different. So now we have two experiences under our belts to learn from,” he said. “We’ve been on the film with it, we got to go outside yesterday to work on it so I feel like if they get the practice time outside we can begin to see the improvement.”

While getting used to the new system has been a chore, Dixon has no complaints when it comes to the O-line’s effort.

“Their work ethic is great. They’re athletic and they’re good. We just have to correct some things.”

Being that he played on the offensive line in the pros, one would probably consider Dixon somewhat of an expert on the subject.

“I don’t know about that. I’ve been humbled the last two weeks,” he said.

“It’s been a hard transition for me because I was at one place (Galax) for so long and the linemen were in the system for so long. I always had one or two or three returning starters and they would communicate up there and tell other people what to do.  I didn’t realize how much communication those kids were doing to help each other. Now, down here, where they’re all learning it, there’s no one up there to tell them, ‘no, do this and do that.’

Dixon said with the situation he had at Galax, you didn’t know that you had a problem because they were communicating.

“Offensive line play is all communicating – just talking. Not having anybody who knows the language … to me that’s been the hardest part. To get them all to speak the same language.”

 

News this week out of Roanoke was that Northside has shut down its program for a couple weeks due to COVID issues. Dixon said COVID worries have been a concern all year.

“We’ve had to live with adjustments every day. I really pray for our kids. That we’re able to finish this thing out. They’ve put in so much of their energy and effort. I’d be heartbroken for our boys [if we had to stop]. They have been so committed,” he said.

Dixon attributes his players’ willingness to lift weights early in the day during the off-season to a desire to return to normal in the face of COVID.

“They were supposed to come in at 6:30, but most of them came in way early.  I had early kids when I was at Galax, but never as early as these kids. Some of it I think is COVID – they’re just excited to be back,” he said.

“And then some of them are just morning people. They like getting their workout done and being done for the day. When we lifted in the morning at Galax it wasn’t my idea. I had one kid who said he wanted to lift in the morning. He said, ‘Coach I can’t any other time.’ That one player turned into five and before I knew it every single kid wanted to lift in the morning. That’s what’s happened here. They always ask can we practice in the morning. They want to do it in the morning so they can have the rest of their day free.”

It’s been the same way during the season, Dixon said. Players watch film or lift weights every morning.

“And that’s for any student who wants to lift weights here not just football. Basically, the premise I started when I got here is our facility will be open every morning for any student who wants to lift weights.”

RATINGS AND RANKINGS: “Still way early … a long way to go.” That was Dixon’s response when asked about the Virginia High School League’s first listing of weekly ratings and rankings in football.

Right now, Pulaski County sits tied atop the Region 4D rankings with a 22.00 rating. The same as Amherst County, Salem and Jefferson Forest. Both the Cougars and Spartans are 2-0 on the season, while Amherst and Forest are 1-0.

FRIDAY’S GAME: We understand at this writing that both mvp.gamedaymagazine.com  and nfhsnetwork.com will be live streaming the Pulaski County – Christiansburg game. Game time is 7 p.m.

And of course, Rick Watson and Shay Dunnigan will bring you all the action starting with the pre-game at 6:30 p.m. on 107.1 PSK.

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot

Senior linebacker Chayton Rollins brings down Hidden Valley’s Jadon Latempa as senior Will Bishop closes in. (Antonio Nottingham/PC Touchdown Club)