Damon Wells compared the first couple of months of his tenure at Jefferson City to watering bamboo.
"When you have to water bamboo every day for four years, nothing happens," Wells said. "And then after four years, it grows a foot a day or something like that. We feel like we've been watering bamboo since March 1."
He's seen improvement in practice from the football team but like bamboo, there haven't been the immediate payoffs with two blowout losses to start his tenure and the Jays 2021 season.
"Our kids are growing in all the right ways," Wells said. "Everything behind the scenes is they're growing as a team, as a unit, as humans, everything. Literally, the only thing we haven't done is win a football game."
The team has a chance to show some improvement and maybe get that out-of-the-blue growth against Rock Bridge in its Central Missouri Activities Conference opener at 7 p.m. today at Adkins Stadium.
The biggest key for that to happen will be consistency on offense. The Jays had a couple of strong drives at the beginning of the game in week one and broke out for two scores late in week one, but the offense has either faded entirely or waited until it's too late to make an impact. The team has scored in only four of its eight quarters while only scoring multiple times in a frame after already being down 40-0 last Friday.
Wells said first that consistency needs to happen within each play.
"I think that when you look at what we did, oftentimes we had 10 kids doing a great thing, but there are 11 on the field," Wells said.
The Jays had 12 runs for no yards or less last Friday night against Hannibal, forcing their run-oriented attack to operate with long second and third downs. The second straight week with less than 40 passing yards made it nearly impossible to convert in those third-and-long situations.
Wells said the team is still adjusting to a new scheme and it can overthink at times to slow down the offense which is predicated on specific timing and physicality to open up gaps for running backs or time for passing plays to develop.
"Not a lot of physical violence happens when you're taking the ACT," Wells said. "So if you're thinking the whole time, it's harder to be physical and to be violent. So we have got to build in the number of repetitions so we know what we're doing so well that we can be violent and we can be physical."
The Jays will likely be without senior Kevion Pendelton, who was one of the team's top defensive players last season and showed his physicality in Week 1. He rumbled through multiple defenders and scored on a 32-yard run to pull within 20 late against Chaminade. Pendelton was a starter at safety and played as a reserve running back.
Zane Wings and Alex Holloway were the two backs to get carries besides David Bethune last Friday while Hayden Wells played some safety in addition to playing quarterback. Wells joined Bethune, Wings, Ryan Tadsen and Rodney Wilson as some of the players who contributed in the secondary last week and they all should continue to see snaps while he's sidelined.
Wells said there isn't a set timetable for his return, and that could be a tough blow for a defense that struggled without him, giving up 40 points in just over three quarters.
"They had talented kids with division one offers and probably our best defensive player didn't play," Wells said.
With or without Pendelton, the defense will face a Rock Bridge unit that had a stark improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. After managing only two scores in a 35-10 season-opening loss to Staley, the Bruins hung 50 on Smith-Cotton in a shutout victory last Friday.
"I think that anytime people have talented kids, that's a threat," Wells said. "That is the challenge. And that's been our threat and our challenge every single week so far this year."
One of those talented pieces is dual-threat senior quarterback Nathan Dent. Dent had a trio of rushing scores last Friday and accounted for five touchdowns after having three turnovers the week before.
On defense, the Bruins will be lead by 6-foot-3 senior defensive tackle Jeremiah Nathan, an all-district and second-team All-State selection last season.
Rock Bridge got a 23-21 victory last season in Columbia after a Nathan fumble recovery in the red zone was one of four turnovers that sunk the Jays and gave them a fourth-straight loss to the Bruins.
"Rock Bridge is good, they're really talented. A really big school, a Class 6 school, but we're not going to change our personality," Wells said. "We're going to be who we are."
The talented team is another one Jefferson City faces and will be a challenge for a team that is inexperienced with its older players having played in their third system in as many years.
"The first week we played a team with multiple Division I offers. The second week, multiple Division I offers," Wells said. "And we don't have that right now.
"That's OK because just because you have those things doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be successful. We've told our kids that we want our whole to be greater than the sum of our parts."
The Jays will get another chance tonight to show that continuity and improvement to overcome some of those disadvantages.
Notes: The last time Jefferson City beat Rock Bridge was a 61-21 win for the Jays on Sept. 23, 2016, at Adkins Stadium. The Jays also won the last postseason matchup in October 2015 in a 31-14 win at Adkins Stadium in the Class 6 state playoffs. The Bruins have won eight of the past 13 games played between the schools since 2010. Jefferson City is 18-11 all-time against Rock Bridge.