FLORENCE — You’ll find the familiar sights of players clashing into each other and hear the echoes of pads popping at Class 4A and 5A schools across the state this spring.
But during the early hours of the morning, you’ll find the same type of attention to detail and preparation at Class 2A Florence as the Buffaloes use the early morning athletic period to prepare for the beginning of the Joey McQueen era.
“It’s great to be able to do this,” McQueen said. “In 3A-down, this is the only way we can do this so we take advantage of the time.”
McQueen was hired as the new Florence head coach in December after a two-years stint as a wide receivers coach at Hardin-Simmons University.
The Buffaloes come off a 1-9 season and have made just two playoff appearances in 55 years, the last coming in 2001. Florence will compete in District 10-3A, Division I this fall.
McQueen came to Florence with a reputation for helping struggling programs after helping Lampasas, Smithville and San Angelo Lake View.
The players have noticed the new energy.
“It’s been a blast,” junior linebacker and offensive tackle Bradley Koenig said. “He wants you to learn, he plays quarterback on scout team and he’s got a lot of energy. It’s awesome.”
The Buffaloes spend the last 30 minutes of their athletic period on the practice field where they work out more plays and schemes. McQueen rotates between offensive, defensive and special teams days depending on the day of the week.
“It’s been pretty great,” junior defensive end and fullback Garrett Gray said. “Coach McQueen is energetic, lively and he’s really changing things. At first we all thought the morning workout was going to be all terrible, but it’s a good workout, we like it now and it’s making us better.”
On Monday morning, the players went over some plays out of the Slot T. Two groups rotated taking reps as they went though run plays and play-action passes.
“It’s hard getting up that early in the morning and pushing yourself every day, but it’s really forcing all of us to work harder,” junior quarterback Reid Shillingburg said. “It’s pretty intense, but the workouts are really making us better.”
Koenig said that although Florence can’t go through full contact spring practices like the more populous schools, the workouts during athletic period would help the Buffaloes get ahead of the curve.
“We’ve already learned a lot more than in years’ past,” Koenig said. “We’ve gone over the basics in the spring and now we’re getting deep into it.”
The team plans to have more new wrinkles under their new coach, such as taking only three seconds between the time they break the huddle to the time they snap the ball.
“The first time we started doing that kind of stuff it was a little difficult, but we adjusted to it,” Shillingburg said. “We’re getting better every practice that we do that in. Coach McQueen has been really helpful in coaching every one of us to make the little changes in what we’re doing in our positions.”
Gray said that this season he looks forward to playing fullback in the new offense. Last year injuries to the offensive line forced the 5-foot-9, 172-pound Gray to play tackle.
“I’m really excited about that,” Gray said.
“It really seems like it’s going to work out a lot better this year than it did last year.”
McQueen hopes that the work in the spring combined with the strength and conditioning summer workouts will lead to an improved showing in the fall.
“I think we’ve already changed a little bit of the culture,” McQueen said. “When you first come in, you must have a mindset change.”
Contact Albert Alvarado at firstname.lastname@example.org