By: Alan Kopitsky, Democrat News
Fredericktown High School football fans got their first look at the 2023 squad this fall, Saturday night at Blackcats Stadium.
The team hosted its annual scrimmage, and fans got a look at several new players, new offensive and defensive schemes and formations, and a few new coaches, including the head coach.
Steve Williams has taken over the head coaching duties at FHS in 2023.
Williams played high school, college, and professional sports, prior to becoming an educator and coach.
“I played football, basketball, and baseball at Cape Central,” he said. “I played football and baseball at SEMO, and then I was in the Phillies’ organization for five years, mostly as a catcher.”
Williams spent the last ten years at Smyrna High School, a class 6 program just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Prior to that, he coached at Cape Girardeau Central for 27 years.
Fredericktown Athletic Director Derrick Eaves said Coach Williams contacted the district and indicated he was interested in moving back to the area.
Williams said he found out about the head coaching opening in Fredericktown and looked at it as an opportunity to move closer to home and his family.
“I was familiar with Fredericktown,” Williams said. “I used to referee basketball games up here all the time.”
He said he is also familiar with several mineral area schools from coaching baseball (as well as football) at Cape Central.
Williams said the thing he wants to do with the Blackcats’ coaching staff is develop a culture which promotes competition, team first, accountability and “all those things that coaches look for in their kids.”
To promote competition throughout the football program, Williams explained the team has adopted a program called “team houses.” They picked five team captains and those captains drafted the players from the team to be in their “house.” They compete against each other in things as simple as cleaning the locker room or as complicated as football.
He said they are trying to develop that mindset with everything they do.
“Winning and losing will take care of itself,” Williams said. “The main thing we’re focused on is really competing and doing our best. And so we’re trying to instill that in our kids in every aspect of the program. And we’ve been pleasantly surprised with their response. They’ve done a really good job. They bought in. They’re enjoying it. I think they see the value of it, and so far I’ve been very pleased with their buy in of that.”
Eaves said Coach Williams is doing a great job leading the staff and players.
“The energy from the summer program has carried over to the first few days at practice,” Eaves said. “Coach Williams works hard and has high expectations for the team.”
The team practices in the afternoon, Monday through Wednesday and then in the morning on Thursday. Williams said this schedule will continue once school starts, Aug. 22 and throughout the season.
The Thursday morning practices will be 45-minute walk-throughs, giving the players nearly 36 hours of rest before Friday night’s kickoff.
“It is a philosophy we have adopted as part of a program that’s called ‘Feed the Cats,’” Williams said. “Feed the Cats is actually a track-based football practice program. We implemented it a little bit at Smyrna. It’s a program where you’re not necessarily grinding the kids up every day like we used to back in the day. We’re not full pads every day. We’re not hitting every day, but when it’s time to go full speed, those few times, I need you to go full speed. Other than that, it’s about getting full rest. It’s about good nutrition. It’s about teaching.”
Williams said he installed the “Feed the Cats” program over the summer, and he feels it will help the players be fresh on Friday nights.
“That extra time of rest can really benefit young kids,” he said.
The Blackcats graduated 12 seniors from the 2022 squad. There are just six seniors this year. With just four or five players returning on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, there will be several new players getting significant playing time for the Cats.
Williams said the coaching staff hasn’t nailed down every starter yet but he has a pretty good idea of the two or three kids who will play each position.
In the past few seasons, Fredericktown consistently had 35-45 players on its roster. This year there are 57, including 17 sophomores and 19 freshmen.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a senior, junior, sophomore, or freshman,” William said. “It’s about taking advantage of your opportunities. I told the players I don’t determine the starting lineup. The players do with their effort, their attitude, whether they show up or not, they’re coachability. They control their own destiny. We will put them in the best situation we can for them to be successful.”
Williams said some of the younger players are “right in the mix with the juniors and seniors.”
“So I feel good about that,” he said. “And I really feel like the way we’re handling it, our kids will be further along and better prepared when we get to those games here in a couple of weeks.”
Williams said he watched all of the Cats’ 2022 games at least two or three times.
“I was impressed that even though sometimes the score got out of hand, the kids didn’t quit,” he said. “They kept playing hard. They were trying their best, doing everything they could to contribute. And so that, to me, that was the biggest thing that stood out on film.”
Williams had been an offensive coordinator for most of his coaching career in Tennessee, and at Cape Girardeau.
“I’ve coached offense much much longer than I’ve ever coached defense,” he said. Obviously by coaching offense you do become familiar with defense. Obviously you learn both. But I feel like my expertise is on this side of the ball. I do understand defensive schemes and things they try to do to us because we have to combat that. So, I don’t feel uncomfortable working with the defense. I just prefer offense.”
“I had coached against Coach Williams when he was the offensive coordinator at Cape Central,” Eaves said. “He was innovative in his schemes. His offensive units played hard and were always prepared.”
Williams says his philosophy is to play to the strength of the team’s personnel.
“I think you have to,” he said. “I think you have to see what personnel you have before you can really say ‘this is what we’re doing offensively.’…I think you can you can mold your offensive scheme or what you want to run offensively to where your players will have the best chance for success. I think that’s a must. I really do.”
Williams said the Cats defense will also focus on the strengths of the players. He said the team has several who are athletic on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’re putting a premium on speed this year,” William said. “All summer long, we’ve tried to develop our kids speed-wise, and we’ve seen some benefits from that. I really feel like our secondary, our linebackers, run well. Even our D linemen run pretty well. And so I really feel like the athletic ability of our kids will allow us to get more people to the football on the defensive side.”
Williams talked about how he hopes playing on this football team will help the players on and off the field.
“I think there are a lot of things they can learn through football and through the experience of the season that we have that will benefit them not only this year but later in life,” he said. “Obviously, the number one reason these kids are here is to get an education. That’s the most important thing. If they have a desire to go to college or trade school, or anything like that post high school, whether it’s football-related or not, I told them ‘we’re here to help you. We’ll be glad to help you any way.'”
Williams also said he could not be happier with the support from fans, the community, and the school.
“I have been tickled to death with all of the support that we have gotten so far,” he said. “The school administration has done everything they can to help us be successful. The community has helped us in a big way. We have had businesses in town volunteer and help like The Pig (BBQ) fed our defensive clinic.”
“The fans will enjoy watching the Blackcats playing hard and with passion,” Eaves said. “They will enjoy watching the Blackcats playing the game the right way. These are all the qualities that Coach Williams will instill in this team.”
The coach said he hopes fans will see a team that competes and enthusiastically plays together as team.
“We talked to our kids about having fun. Having fun doesn’t necessarily mean joking around. Having fun is why you play football,” Williams said. “We want them to understand, ‘hey have all the fun you want to, pull for your teammates, do the things you enjoy,’ and I think that is what our fans and supporters will see is a group that really wants to be out there that really plays and competes against somebody else and will give their best every time they’re out there for them.”
The Blackcats wrap up the pre-season with the annual jamboree in Dexter, Friday. Fredericktown will then open the regular season with three road games, at Jefferson, Herculaneum, and Valle. Local fans waiting to see these “hungry” Blackcats at FHS will have to wait for the home opener, September 15, against Ste. Genevieve.