In some ways, the spring schedule has stayed the same for first-year Caldwell County football coach Will Barnes.
As a new father, he’s in bed later and out of bed earlier — seeing to the needs of an infant much like he would be with the Tigers, planning next year’s moves now.
But two months have passed since the KHSAA first ruled a dead period for all sports instruction and training with high school student-athletes due to the coronavirus and its mandatory social distancing, which has put Barnes and his staff somewhat behind the 8-ball in terms of prep.
So while there isn’t really fear or concern brewing, there are certainly a litany of questions that must be answered when — or if — the 2020 season kicks, and the spring might’ve turned some ideas into full concepts and plans for summer ball, or even the 2020 playbook.
“If we had spring practice, we’ve got some skill guys that wouldn’t’ve been out there with us,” Barnes notes, with guys clearly committed to other sports. “But from an (offensive) linemen standpoint, we’ve got some good linemen coming back — including three-year starting center Dalton Haney.
“And we’ve three or four guys that were really working hard in January and February that we were kind of excited to get out on the field and do a little bit with and see what they looked like out there.”
Among the more obvious questions heading into the summer, Barnes is already ahead.
How do the Tigers replace the production of De’Eric Hollowell, after he closed his career by emphatically slashing for more than 1,500 all-purpose yards and 26 touchdowns?
“That’s a lot of production we’re losing,” he said. “We don’t have anybody right now that’s going to be one person that steps in and fills that void. I think we’ve got some guys that ran the ball a little bit last year and done a good job the last couple of years. But I think it’s going to be a multitude of guys, and we’ve got a few freshmen that might be able to contribute a little bit there.
“I think you’ll see us probably run the quarterback more than we ever have, because (Russ) Beshear is one of the top-five fastest runners that we have. He’s a hard-nosed runner, and he’s kind of got that knack for finding running lanes. So I think you’ll see him run a lot more this year, even than he did last year. And he ran a decent amount.”
In his first season as a starter, Beshear threw for 1,555 yards, 19 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions while completing more than 68% of his passes — adding 107 carries, 279 yards rushing and four rushing scores.
And in this modified Tony Franklin spread, regression hasn’t really occurred for the Tigers at the quarterback position. Elijah Sindelar, Shane Burns and Joby Jaggers all went on to have a more productive year No. 2 in the system after getting the feet wet, and Barnes is expecting Beshear to be an even better version of himself.
“The quarterback has a lot of freedom in our offense to do a lot of things,” Barnes added. “And it’s why quarterback has been such piece for us over the years.”
Or as the late Kenny Rogers once said, Beshear’s going to need to “know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”
Who quarterbacks the Tigers defense now, after senior Ben Holt bruised for a team-best 116 tackles and 22 tackles-for-loss, and senior defensive back Max Ashley grabbed four interceptions?
“We’ll lose a lot of production from Ben, stat-wise,” Barnes said. “But he was kind of our coach on the field defensively. He’s a really smart kid who can get us lined up and make checks at the line of scrimmage if we needed to. That’s a big thing we’re going to miss, too. Tate (VanHooser) will have to take on some of that role.”
Others who could be involved: Travion Samuel (48 tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss, 5.5 sacks), Beshear (“closer to the line of scrimmage”) and Elijah Shaheen.
Is soon-to-be senior receiver Tripp Branch prepared to expand his offensive workload, after stepping into starters snaps in 2019?
“I think it was a little bit of an adjustment for him early in the year last season, just trying to figure some things out,” Barnes said. “About the middle of the year on, he really took off, and I think he’ll have a really big 2020. He works hard, and I think he’s starting to kind of figure it out. He has a great body and a great frame.”
Tripp had his breakout game on Oct. 8, 2019 in a 42-40 win at Ty Holland Stadium in Murray: eight catches, 116 yards and a touchdown. He’d scorch them again in the playoffs on Nov. 8 (four catches, 114 yards), and he’d finish with a team-best 423 yards receiving and five touchdowns — just shy of VanHooser’s six.
“I’m looking forward to him being a huge part of the offense in 2020,” Barnes said. “He does a good job on the 50/50 balls, and I think that’s where his basketball ability helps him out there.”
By making 47-of-49 PATs and 2-of-5 field goals a year ago, will a guy like Blake Vivrette once again be a scoring leader for the Tigers?
“He’s constantly kicking,” Barnes said. “He’s worked, worked, worked. Worked really hard since he decided he wanted to kick. He’s a really good soccer player. Probably one of the best athletes in our school. We’re fortunate to have him. I have no issues kicking a field goal with him, and I think he’ll be even better next year.”
And after leading the Tigers with 8.5 sacks (and a team-tying 22 tackles-for-loss) as a sophomore, is a soon-to-be junior defensive end like Shaheen on the cusp of getting noticed?
“He’s probably on some people’s radar,” notes Barnes. “(But) I think he’ll have a really big year this year. He had a good year last year. He’s gotten into the weight room and really focused on getting better, and I think he’ll be really good.”
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