The Mercer County Titans are itching to get started, and so is their coach.
While most of the state’s football teams kicked off the season last week, Mercer had to wait another week to launch a new era under a new coach.
The Titans open Saturday against Allen County-Scottsville in the Stuart Powell Ford Tough Bowl at Boyle County, and Pardue said he can tell they’re counting the days.
“They’re ready,” Pardue said Tuesday. “Probably yesterday was the best practice we’ve had all year as far as a total practice. You can tell it’s game week now.”
It’s not game week for everyone, however. The season will start without quarterback J.T. Long, who suffered a broken collar bone in a scrimmage last week and is expected to miss the entire season.
Still, the Titans are eager to take the field, and Pardue is eager to see whether they will continue the course of improvement he said they displayed in scrimmages against Green County and Central Hardin.
“I’m looking to see if we’ve made the same amount of improvements for this game as we did between our first and second scrimmage. If we do that, we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “And I want them to play from the heart and fly around and have fun.”
Mercer has changed directions often in recent years, as Pardue is the Titans’ fourth coach in five years. He will certainly be familiar with both the location and the opponent of his first game, which is being played against his alma mater (Allen) at the school where he used to coach (Boyle).
But having an unfamiliar quarterback certainly throws a monkey wrench into Mercer’s opener. The new starter is expected to be sophomore Austin Sparrow, who has worked as Long’s backup throughout the summer.
Sparrow threw for one touchdown and ran for another last week after Long was injured in the first quarter of the Central Hardin scrimmage, and Pardue said there shouldn’t be much adjustment to the offensive package.
“Not much at all. Being new here, and this being the third system these guys have had to learn, we don’t have a lot in. It’s not real complicated right now,” he said.
Pardue said he likes giving his backup quarterbacks game experience, and he said had already told Sparrow “to expect to play at least two series every game”¿before Long was hurt. Freshman Drew Davis is the only other quarterback on the roster, and he said he’ll probably also give some snaps to wide receiver Darion Lewis, who has some experience behind center.
Mercer will face an Allen team that has a game under its belt, though that game didn’t go well for the Patriots. They had eight turnovers in a 45-0 loss to Bowling Green, and Pardue said those turnovers spoiled an otherwise good performance.
“The score didn’t indicate the way the game was played. Allen County was pretty much knocking Bowling Green around,” he said. “They’re really aggressive. Their offensive and defensive fronts are the most aggressive I’ve seen in a long time.”
Pardue said quarterback Connor Ross is “a big kid who can run and throw,” saying the 6-1, 210-pound senior can operate out of a pro-I formation or spread the field.
“They’re an option and zone team, and that doesn’t allow you to pursue the ball like you’d like to with your whole defense. Each kid has to take care of his own responsibilities,” Pardue said.
Allen suffered heavy graduation losses after reaching the Class AAAA¿finals in 2010 and went 4-7 with a young team last year, but Pardue said coach Brad Hood likes the Patriots’ makeup this season.
“He was really impressed with the team he’s got now. He feels really good about them, and I can understand why,” Pardue said.
This is the first of two years in which Mercer will open the season against Allen; the two teams will kick off next season in a bowl in Bowling Green.
There is much shared history between Hood and Pardue, who played at Allen and later was an assistant coach there under Hood’s father, Royce. Pardue also coached at Allen under Chuck Smith, who replaced Royce Hood in 1987, and that started the chain of events that led Pardue to Boyle, where he was an assistant coach under Smith from 1992-2004 and head coach from 2005-07 following Smith’s departure.
Pardue didn’t make this Mercer schedule, and he said it is ironic that he will make his debut with the Titans both against Allen and at Boyle.
“It’s not about me, but it’s going to be fun,”¿he said. “I had some great years at both those places, and both those places are close to my heart. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go over there on that field and win as bad as I¿can.”