WALKER – Before he can go about the duty of coaching his first team at Walker High, coach Chad Mahaffey said the next several days will play a pivotal role in the shaping of the team’s season.
There wasn't any discussion about tangible attributes such as blocking and tackling, but more of an emphasis on team building such as the time the Wildcats will spend away from the field over the course of four, 12-hour days that could ultimately provide a difference in a season could range from good to truly memorable.
“The closer we can get makes us a better team,” Mahaffey said. “We’re going to face our challenges and adversities each game throughout the season. The teams that are usually more successful are the ones that are closer teams, get along well and willing to work for each other.”
Walker begins its on-campus “Boot Camp” from 7:30-7:30 p.m., beginning Wednesday until Saturday and will consist of practices in helmets and shorts, watching film and walk-throughs.
Mahaffey said there will also be time to relax away from the field where players can interact with each other.
“It’s got to be important,” Mahaffey said of the team’s opportunity to bond. “Just that sense of team from top to bottom. Being appreciative of each other, knowing each other; becoming close as a team and as teammates.
“This is kind of the start of our season,” Mahaffey said. “We’ve got to be accountable, reliable to be here every day and for some guys that’s been a challenge. You’re going to get in a lot of football work during a short amount of time. You’re not in a school setting yet, so you have more time to spend with the guys at a slower pace. You’re not working on an opponent. You’re just working to get better.”
Mahaffey brings a wealth of success into his third head coaching stop, the previous nine at University High School, where he guided the Cubs to three straight championships – the last two in Division II.
Mahaffey (102-51 at U-High, 106-20 overall in 10 years) directed the Cubs to a 13-0 mark – their 26th consecutive victory - and a Division II state crown in 2018.
“For me it’s exciting,” Mahaffey said of his first year at Walker. “It makes you go back to square one. You deal with some things you haven’t dealt with in a while, but I think seeing those guys turn the corner is something all coaches get excited about.
“I don’t know how soon we can become a great program,” Mahaffey said “I think we’ve got good players. I don’t think it’s a talent issue and if our guys make up their minds it could be a really special year.”
Upon the completion of the four-day boot camp, Walker will move into a more conventional routine starting Aug. 5 with one practice per day.
The Wildcats’ practice sessions will evolve from helmets and shorts to shells (helmets and shoulder pads) to full pads by Aug. 12 with an eye on their fall scrimmage at home against Slidell, Aug. 22 at 5:30 p.m.
For the second straight year, Walker faces Catholic High in jamboree action with the Wildcats traveling to Memorial Stadium in Baton Rouge at 7 p.m. Aug. 30.
“We’ve got a lot to work on,” Mahaffey said. “Going through the spring and summer, we have a better idea of the personnel. We’ll be adding to what we’re doing, also picking the personnel that fits us best.”
With only eight practices in the spring – including a game with Woodlawn – Walker was introduced to Mahaffey’s spread offense, which has traditionally relied on a physical running game.
Senior Ethan McMasters emerged from a three-quarterback battle a year ago to become the team’s starter. There’s no such debate in 2019, where he’s firmly entrenched at that position after completing 140 of 236 passes for 2,235 yards for 23 touchdowns and 11 touchdowns.
Junior wide receiver Brian Thomas, a first team All-Parish and Class 5A All-State honorable mention selection, is the team’s top returning target with 50 catches for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Wildcats, who must also replace All-Parish Defensive MVP Byron Lockhart Jr., return second team All-Parish selection Keondre Brown, now a senior linebacker and running back.
“The biggest challenge has been accountability,” Mahaffey said. “We’ve lost some guys. It’s been much more about routine and what we expect out of you. We’re eventually getting there and getting guys to where they’re used to certain things a certain way.
“That’s our jobs as coaches to work with these guys, the way we’re expecting them to do it,” Mahaffey said. “We’re trying to earn their trust and prove to them every day that we can help them to have the things that they want. But they’ve got to be willing to do those things to.”