As much as the scoreboard shows the Heritage Academy football team aced its first two tests of the 2013 season, coach Barrett Donohoe knows his team has a lot of room for improvement.
The Patriots’ second-year head coach also knows he and his players have to guard against the enemy of every team that has a little success: overconfidence.
Victories against Lowndes County residents Caledonia and West Lowndes have Heritage Academy flying high at 2-0 and tied for fifth this week in The Associated Press’ private school rankings. It is the first time in recent memory that the Patriots have been ranked in the poll, which features voting from media outlets throughout the state.
Even though Heritage Academy has won its first two games by a combined margin of victory of 55 points, Donahoe has reason to be concerned entering his team’s game at 7 p.m. Friday against Winston Academy. Granted, Heritage Academy edged Winston Academy 14-0 in a preseason jamboree, but Donahoe knows Winston Academy (0-2) will be hungry and anxious to get its first victory of the season. That’s why he is anxious to see how his team responds this week in practice to the challenge of moving to 3-0 to start the season.
“We just have to make sure we stay very level-headed as an overall group and very focused on what we have to do to win the game,” Donahoe said, “not let’s look at how good we are going to feel when we win. Let’s look at what we have to do to win that football game.”
Donahoe said in the preseason and has said in the first two weeks of the season that the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II state title Heritage Academy won last season has given his players confidence.
The Patriots have carried that momentum from 2012 into season and have started the year at a much higher level and, according to Donahoe, “believe they are going to win” when they hit the field.
But Heritage Academy has encountered little resistance in its 35-14 and 40-6 victories against Caledonia and West Lowndes. Donahoe knows his team will face adversity this season, and he is curious to see how the Patriots will respond when they are down in the third or fourth quarter.
Knowing Winston Academy coach Bo Milton and understanding the tradition of the Louisville Patriots, Donahoe expects that challenge to come this week.
He said Tuesday he talked with a team leader to impress upon him the importance of having the team mentally ready to play.
As important as this week’s game is, Donahoe doesn’t want anyone overconfident and looking ahead to next week when Heritage Academy plays host to Jackson Academy, the No. 1 team in the AP private school poll.
“Did we play a good football game the other night (against West Lowndes)? In a lot of ways yes and in a lot of ways no,” Donahoe said.
“We weren’t as emotional or as consistent at all 11 positions on offense on every play as we would like to be. I didn’t feel we were as good a shape in the first half as I thought we would be.
“You talk about overconfidence, it definitely could be a problem. You’re sitting there 0-2 and going to play Winston Academy, who if they don’t turn the ball over 14 times in two games it is a lot different look for them, too.”
Donahoe knows how a team can respond when its back is against the wall. In many ways, Heritage Academy was in that situation last year. After losses to Jackson Academy and Magnolia Heights, things came together for the Patriots and they went on a five-game winning streak to win the state championship.
To combat against Winston Academy coming out and playing its best game of the season, Donahoe knows the Louisville Patriots will come out fighting to prevent their season from spiraling out of control.
If Donahoe can get his players to understand the intensity they will need to go on the road and get a key victory, he believes they will be fine.
Then the Patriots will have to learn to duplicate that for two and a half more months.
“When the scoreboard indicates something different (in terms of score) to a 16- or 17-year-old, you have to make sure they understand things are not going to come easily on that football field on Friday nights — ever — and you have to work for everything you have,” Donahoe said. “Once you begin to settle in and not try to progress as a player in practice or on Friday night, you set yourself up for failure. That is what we’re trying to guard against.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.