McKinley Coach Al Kallay has drilled his team with special teams habits all season, so much so that the Trainers devote time to the unit at the beginning, middle and end of every practice. That kind of discipline strays from the showmanship of offensive football and works in conjunction with strong defensive play, Kallay likes to think.
“That’s how important it is,” Kallay said.
Whatever the routine, or philosophy, it has been a revelation for Mckinley. After losing the first four games of the season, all convincingly, the Trainers have responded with a four-game winning streak, which continued Friday night with a 72-0 win against Cardozo. Kallay’s team used two punt returns of 60 and 29 yards from Shaquante Simms, an interception return for a touchdown from Noah Brownlee and a fumble return for a touchdown from Qadry Harris in the dominant win. The Trainers (4-4, 4-o) are rolling through the DCIAA Stripes Division, beating the last four divisional foes by a combined score of 216-0.
“We kind of have an identity now,” Kallay said. “We’re executing better. We have more of an identity, and the kids actually know what they’re doing.”
The versatile Simms has been one of the team’s best players; he’s rushed for nearly 200 yards the past three games and has already scored six touchdowns this season. That complements the team’s feature back, Danzel Brown, well. The speedy Brown, just a freshman, has rushed for 440 yards and five touchdowns this season, with his best game coming against Bell two weeks ago when he had 159 yards on 16 carries. He’s a beneficiary of Kallay’s power-formation, physical running approach. And all the kids are expected to contribute on special teams, which makes the difference in important late-season games. McKinley will meet perhaps its toughest DCIAA Stripes opponent this week in Phelps (4-3, 3-0), which has won three consecutive games. The Panthers squeezed by Theodore Roosevelt 18-13 last week, but pitched shutouts in the two games before that.
Kallay will keep with his normal routine this week. He will work through all aspects of the kicking game to try and change the angle of the game against Phelps — he often refers back to an instructional video that he showed his team earlier this season, which featured Virginia Tech Coach and special teams guru Frank Beamer stressing the importance of a unit often forgotten. Kallay will need it if Mckinley plans on winning the inagural DCIAA Stripes championship game in late November, not to mention carry out his vision on “making noise” in the DCSAA playoffs should the Trainers earn the berth.
“They want to play special teams,” Kally said of his players. “Just winning the conference is not a measure for us, because we feel that we can compete with anybody in the Stars Division . . . we in it to move on to [the state playoff].”