High School Football

Yellow Jackets football all the buzz in Andrews

Steve Blanchard didn't have to decide between the mental and the physical.

He went with both.

Repetition of both approaches - plus some big wins - have the Yellow Jackets and their second-year head coach favored to not only earn a trip to the playoffs, but get a quality seed. It's quite a change from a year and a half ago, when Blanchard was advised by his peers against taking the "That breeds something, because our parents and our community got behind us," Blanchard said. "We painted the concession stand; we painted the locker room.

"Somebody told me I shouldn't take the job because you can't get the community behind you."

Slowly, Blanchard's team is proving the detractors wrong.

Blanchard has his team 4-1 heading into tonight's Region VI-AA opener against Class AA powerhouse Timberland, a team that swatted the Yellow Jackets to the tune of a 46-13 beatdown a season ago.

Timberland is still one of the best in the state, but Andrews no longer considers itself the doormat it was when Blanchard took over.

Back to that double-edged approach.

It started when Blanchard got in the head of his players.

"He just told us we should trust him and we should do what he asks," quarterback Ken Funnye said. "And we'd be successful."

Helping the process along was Blanchard's pedigree. Players understood their coach was part of successful programs (Timberland, Berkeley).

They also saw both sides of the raw emotion tied in with the coaching profession. It was by design.

"I don't like to wait for a year, but you have to be patient at times," Blanchard said. "You have to yell and scream at times. You have to put your arm around [a player] at times. You have to run through that whole gamut of psychology."

Then, there was a lifting routine.

The coaching staff asked players to make at least 40 trips to the weight room over the course of the summer. Ninety-five percent of the team complied.

The commitment level wasn't just a team basis. Funnye himself made a personal sacrifice to football, taking a year off track, a sport where he turned himself into a standout as a sophomore in 2009 when he won the Class AA state title in the triple jump and finished fourth in the long jump. He plans to return to track as a senior, but he felt the Yellow Jackets' football team would benefit more if he took a year away from track.

"I wouldn't say I quit track, but I had to focus on football so I could concentrate on it," Funnye said. "I feel like I like football a little bit more."

Said Blanchard: "I want kids to play different sports. It helps the overall athleticism of your sport. The kids who go out there and play baseball year round and try to get a scholarship, it doesn't work. I told him it had to be the right decision for him. I didn't try to push him or sway him in any way."

Funnye has responded by turning into the type of quarterback Andrews needs for its option offense to work. He leads the team in rushing yards (413) and carries (81) and is tied for the team lead in touchdowns (four). Blanchard said the quarterback has exceeded expectations, and the rest of the offense is following along.

All those changes together have helped the Yellow Jackets start to pile up wins, maybe none more impressive this year than one over Carvers Bay on Sept. 10.

Winning tonight against Timberland would be even bigger. Even if Andrews falls, though, the turnaround is in full effect. The Yellow Jackets have already doubled their win total from last year.

"I don't think anyone," Blanchard said, "wants to be a part of something that fails."

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