All practice long Thursday, Fort Lewis College head football coach Cesar Rivas harped on the little things.
He made several players come back and run off the field again, stressing expediency and hustle.
He quizzed defenders on their calls and coverages.
He barked at backs and receivers to finish their runs.
All of this was done with the purpose of eradicating a pervasive cancer thats plagued the FLC program this year. Avoidable mistakes have hampered the Skyhawks in slim defeats to Colorado School of Mines and Mesa State the last two weeks, and Rivas is hoping to eliminate as many as possible as the Skyhawks look to best Western State (0-6, 0-4 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) today in FLCs homecoming game at 1 p.m. at Ray Dennison Memorial Field.
Its always a work in progress right now with where the program is because every day is trying to breed habits, Rivas said. And were trying to breed positive habits.
One of a handful of areas the Skyhawks (1-4, 1-3 RMAC) are working to clean up is special teams. Opponents are averaging 31.7 yards per kick return, and the Skyhawks are just 4 of 8 on field goals this season.
Senior Sam Loeblein, a linebacker who also moonlights on punt and kickoff coverage, said the answer to FLCs woes in that area is simple.
Everyones got to run down there, he said. Weve got to make plays. Its all just hustle on special teams.
Penalties also are an area of concern: FLC has committed 39 penalties for 352 yards, an average of nearly eight penalties per game for a shade more than 70 yards per game. Not all penalties, however, are created equal.
The occassional pass interference or holding penalty is caused more by overaggression, which Rivas said he isnt as troubled by as the mental mistakes.
Unfortunately for FLC, Rivas said too many of its penalties fall into the realm of mental mistakes, infractions such as offsides, false starts or personal fouls.
Were having way too many of the avoidable penalties. ... The things that do take focus or more focus, he said. We want to be perfect when it comes down to that kind of stuff.
While a turnover margin of zero might seem acceptable, Rivas said being evenly matched in terms of turnovers hurts the Skyhawks chances to use turnovers; theyve forced 13 so far, three more than their 2009 total, to gain an advantage over superior opponents.
Coming out of the gate strong in the second half also has been a sticking point for Fort Lewis. The Skyhawks have been outscored 48-7 in the period, and Loeblein said a different approach to preparations right before the half could lead to a turn for the better.
At the beginning of the season, we were kind of just sitting around, Loeblein said. Then wed come out and just stretch for a second and just go. Now were running more plays when we come out, trying to get in the feel of the game.
Its little adjustments like those that illustrate the FLC coaching staff still is learning and growing along with its players. Trial and error is one way perhaps the only way for the first-year staff to figure out what works and what doesnt. So, in a way, the staff is working to trim its mistakes so the players can trim theirs.
Its always a coaching mistake because and Ill keep saying this we either coach it to happen, or we allow it to happen, Rivas said. So whether were 10-0 or 0-10, were practicing to be perfect, or were practicing to be imperfect.
To this point, its been a frustrating run for an FLC team that knows with a few less turnovers here, less penalties there and a fewer missed tackles, it could be sitting at 2-3 or 3-2 instead of at 1-4.
They are frustrations, though, the Skyhawks hope to take out on the Mountaineers.
It just seems like we need to step it up in the second half, Loeblein said.