By CLINT FOSTER
With scrimmages and two-a-days behind them, head coach Bryan Horton and the Community Christian School Warriors are confident with a healthy team at the dawn of a new season.
The Warriors open their 2013 campaign today at 7 p.m. against the non-district Johnson County Homeschool Lions at historic Miller Stadium in Mineral Wells.
Health is by far on of the Warriors biggest assets heading into their first game of the season under the Friday night lights.
CCS was ravaged by injuries last year, which included, but were not limited to, the Warriors’ top three playmakers – Isaiah Brazeal, Sammy Brazeal and Joby Bradshaw.
Now Horton said his entire squad is healthy with the exception of one sophomore.
That’s as good of a reason as any for Horton to be confident.
“I’m really happy with the team that’s out there right now. I’m real proud of them,” he said. “If we stay healthy, we’re going to look real good.
“I’ve got hard-working guys who are excited. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Horton debuted his 2013 team in a scrimmage last week against Houston Academy of Stephenville and Stephenville Faith – one of the best six-man teams in the state.
Horton said he was pleased with the team’s performance, especially their execution of the spread offense.
But he added there are still things they need to improve, particularly decision-making in zone blocking situations.
“Overall I was pretty happy,” he said. “I was really happy with our spread offense.
“It was a real good surprise that we were able to gain a few yards. We weren’t hitting our blocks quite as well as I wanted us to.
“[Stephenville Faith’s] middle linebacker [and quarterback] Shadd Cole, he’s one of the best six-man players in the state.
“It really presents some matchup problems. Really just decision-making is all it amounted to inside each guys particular zone as to who they went after.
“Trying to work on our decision-making is one of the things we were really focused in on this week.”
Some of the Warriors blocking difficulties could be attributed to Sammy Brazeal’s limited action in the scrimmage.
Horton said he wanted to save his best lineman and not risk injury.
However, blocking woes aside, Horton said he was particularly impressed with Bradshaw, star player and Sammy’s cousin Isaiah and new quarterback Landon Payne
Payne’s success was a welcome sight because Horton was not sure how he would react to an in-game situation.
Payne established a great connection with Bradshaw at receiver, seeming to “hit him in stride every time” as Horton said.
“Payne continued to throw the ball well,” Horton said. “I really like his decision making.
“He didn’t handle the blitz real good, but he gets better every mistake. I hope I can live life that way, too.”
In light of his team’s offensive success, Horton said he wants to highlight the Payne-to-Bradshaw connection with more designed pass plays.
As a whole, the coach said he has expanded his spread package in hopes of continued success after the first exhibition game.
“When you have as much success against a good team like [Stephenville] Faith with a spread package, you’ve got to think, well, maybe that might be something we can have some success against everybody with,” he said.
As for the Warriors’ week one opponent, Johnson County presents another challenge. The Lions – previously known as Cleburne Christian – walloped CCS in their season opener last year, 58-12.
Their name may have changed, but Johnson County brings another quality squad to Miller Stadium this year led by star quarterback Aaron Midkiff.
Horton was very complimentary of Midkiff, but insisted that the Warriors would not begin this season the same way as the last.
Horton hopes to stop the Lions’ running game, containing Midkiff on the ground and forcing him to beat the Warriors through the air.
Although Midkiff is also an accomplished passer, Horton said he would “rather them be throwing it over the top of my head than running it down my throat.”
“With Johnson County, they’re a good team,” Horton said. “They smacked us around pretty good last year.
“We weren’t really ready. I think we’re going to have a little bit different outcome this year.
“If that game’s tight and we’re in it, we’ll do what it takes to win it. Midkiff’s the catch for them, you have to stop him.
“If we get him shut down, we’ll be in good shape. But if he’s running wild on us, it’s going to be a tough game.”
Horton said he believes he has a player who can match up with Midkiff on the field this year in Isaiah Brazeal.
He said he is excited to see what his star, who was already sidelined with an ACL injury for last year’s opener, can do on this stage.
Even so, Horton said his ultimate goal for today’s game is improving his team for what lies ahead this season.
“I’m less concerned with getting ready for [Johnson County] and more concerned with us continuing forward with what we’re trying to put in place,” he said. “[We need to] get a good idea about who we are, what our identity is and how best to go about winning ball games.”
Follow Clint on Twitter @Clint_Foster55