For the first time this season, the Sherman Bearcats are close to being 100 percent healthy.
Last week’s open date provided the Bearcats a needed break after 10 consecutive weeks of contact, coach J.D. Martinez said.
“It definitely helped us,” Martinez said of the bye week. “There were some guys out there that didn’t put pads on at all last week. They watched and got mental reps and we’re good captains. I told them to be good coaches. Hopefully, that week off really helped them get re-energized and get all their boo boos taken care of. It was huge for us.
“It was also huge for us psychologically, just to take a deep breath and say, ‘here we are, this is what we’re doing.’ It also gives us a chance to evaluate where we’re at in the district and we can stress that to our kids. That way, they know what they’ve got to do.”
Sherman (4-4, 2-2) heads into Friday’s District 5-5A game at Wichita Falls High with only running back Michael Wallace expected to be held out. Wallace suffered a knee injury in the Bearcats’ 49-21 victory at Denton Braswell on Oct. 13.
Meanwhile, sophomore offensive lineman Christian Smallwood, who has been out since the district opener at Wichita Falls Rider, will be available and is expected to play Friday.
Sherman had at least one starter miss time because of injury in every game through Braswell. The Denton Ryan game on Oct. 20 was the first time the Bearcats started the same five offensive linemen two weeks in a row.
The flip side, Martinez said, is several backup players have gained experience. The Bearcats enter the final two weeks of the season with a number of positions manned by at least two players who have started games.
“I think it’s huge,” Martinez said. “We’ve finally got guys in there that can go, and at the same time maybe the backups are just as good as the guys that are starting because they’ve got the reps. It’s very valuable for us, plus just knowing game speed.
“That should also help us in special teams. Now you’ve got guys in there who understand the speed of the game. It definitely will help us all the way around and, hopefully, make us a better football team.”
One result of the injury issues is Sherman will have three running backs available after this week. Martinez said Mike Brown, who was moved up to the varsity to take Wallace’s place, will remain on the roster the rest of the season.
“He’s a good little back and he’s sturdy,” Martinez said of Brown.
Brown rushed nine times for 25 yards in his varsity debut against No. 3 Denton Ryan.
“He did well,” Martinez said. “We asked him to lead up on an iso, and that’s not really his forte. He didn’t bat an eye. He went in there and stuck it in there. I was really proud of him. He’s got a good mindset.”
While the Bearcats didn’t play last week, Martinez said they didn’t ease off the workload much with three practices with at least some contact work.
“We were in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) all week,” Martinez said. “We lifted Monday and Friday, so we really practiced Tuesday through Thursday in shells and stressed a lot of individual fundamentals from that standpoint.
“We also hit the heck out of special teams, especially punt, and also kickoff coverage. Those are the two things that are still hurting us right now, so we spent a lot of time on those.”
Sherman enters Friday’s game knowing it can clinch a playoff berth — the Bearcats’ first since 2012 — with a victory over the Coyotes. Martinez said it’s important to get the matter settled this week as opposed to heading into next week’s Battle of the Ax with Denison still looking to qualify.
“It would be one less thing to worry about or mess with, however you want to say it,” Martinez said. “But I think it would be huge so we can focus on just playing the rivalry that it is.”
A year ago, Sherman entered the Battle of the Ax needing to win by eight points in order to qualify. Instead, Denison won 35-30 to eliminate the Bearcats. Had the Bearcats won by 13, they would have claimed the district’s No. 1 Division II playoff seed ahead of the Yellow Jackets. Wrapping up a playoff berth this week will eliminate that factor from the rivalry game.
“Last year was kind of a big deal because we had to win by so many points to get in and at the same time, that’s what you want to do,” Martinez said. “I know that late in the game last year, it didn’t even enter my mind about kicking a field goal, which we could have done.
“Hindsight being 20-20, if we’d kicked a field goal (it would have made the score 35-33). We came back down and were on the 25 and Pedro (Salvador) could have kicked that. We would have won by one, but at the same time that wouldn’t have helped us get in the playoffs. Our mindset last year was the playoffs and not necessarily anything else.”