Barron Taylor calls it the “Bonsai Drill” and it goes like this.
Taylor throws the football out on the practice field and then times his special teams unit on how quickly they set up for a last-minute scenario. The unit has 12 seconds to execute their assignment whether it’s for punt returns or extra-point and field-goal attempts.
Taylor introduced the concept to Freedom this season after joining the Eagles’ staff as its first-year special teams coach. He learned the drill from a former coach and decided to implement it as soon as possible.
The preparation paid off last Friday when Freedom’s game against visiting Colonial Forge presented a Bonsai situation.
Tied with Colonial Forge at 27-all with under 10 seconds left on the clock and no timeouts, Taylor knew the Eagles needed to kick a field goal after Jason Hawkins was stopped at the Colonial Forge 3-yard line. Taylor sent them immediately on to the field before Colonial Forge could set up.
The timing surprised Freedom head coach Darryl Overton. Overton planned on attempting a field goal, but wanted to spike the ball first to stop the clock. Taylor, though, was ready to go.
After the field-goal unit raced into position for its first attempt of the season, Julian Edwards snapped a perfectly-placed ball to holder Davis Bryson. Bryson handled the ball with precision, allowing junior Markell Johnson to kick a 20-yard field goal as time expired to keep Freedom unbeaten in a comeback victory after Colonial Forge jumped out to a 21-0 second-quarter lead.
In Overton’s five years as head coach, Freedom has a history of rarely attempting field goals, let alone converting them. Freedom did not record any points off field goals last season and only once in 2017. Some of that is due to inexperienced kickers, like last year’s newcomer Alpha Sow who was 0-3 on his attempts with one block and the other two sailing right of the goal post.
But the dearth of field goals also stems from Freedom’s high-powered offense. The Eagles have averaged 45.1 points a game during the 2017-18 seasons and entered Friday’s game having scored 97 points in their first two contests.
“We’ve been so good on offense that we have more confidence in the offense,” Overton said.
Taylor’s arrival has bolstered Freedom’s kicking game and given Overton reason to consider attempting field goals more so than in the past.
“He’s taken it off our plates,” Overton said. “And by focusing on that, he’s made it easier on me.”
In April, Taylor came aboard as coach.
“”I have nothing but love and respect for the North Stafford program,” Taylor said. “They do everything the right way and I enjoyed my time there. But when I saw what coach Overton was doing, it really caught my eye. I wanted to be a part of that journey.”
Taylor was so ready to jump in that he presented Overton with a 15-page power point presentation on special teams.
“I knew Freedom’s history with kicking, but I’m not a stranger to these situations,” said Taylor, who teaches adaptive physical education at Rodney Thompson Middle School in Stafford.
Taylor has coached special teams in high school since 2014 when he started at Brooke Point for one season before going to North Stafford from 2015-18. In five seasons, Taylor has had at least one specialist earn first or second-team all-district honors, including three kickers, all of whom have experience booting game-winning field goals with no time remaining.
He learned the Bonsai drill from North Stafford’s Dean Hogan, where the two coached together for two seasons. Hogan was an all-conference punter at UVA-Wise who also served two years at Ohio and then three seasons at Illinois.
Taylor also considers North Stafford graduate Austin Grebe as a mentor. Grebe, who went on to kick at Navy, has spent summers helping train Taylor’s kickers.
North Stafford graduate and current Carolina Panther kicker Joey Slye has worked with Taylor and his kickers in the offseason as well.
Johnson’s strong right leg is another reason for Freedom’s improved confidence in its kicking game. Johnson is capable of converting field goals from at least 45 yards out.
Johnson also plays linebacker and wide receiver, but Taylor said Johnson volunteered to kick after Taylor sought volunteers. When Taylor saw Johnson boot a 35-yard field goal in practice, the job was his.
“He listens and understands the situation,” Taylor said. “I can trust him.”