LANCASTER — Two hours before a scrimmage, and Bennie McMurray is cranky.
It's a hot afternoon, early in the school year, and he's getting the players who missed workouts caught up, taking them to a practice field to flip large tires.
"Yeah I'm in a bad mood," McMurray barked when one of his players piped up. "I'm always in a bad mood."
McMurray's frustration is understandable, in part, because he's trying to fix a program that he thinks can be a lot better.
The veteran coach (who went 143-46 in 14 years at Lewisville) inherited an 0-11 team when he took over in Lancaster in 2006. Within three years he had the Bruins to 10 wins and the state Class AAAA semifinals.
Since then, things have tapered sharply. The Bruins followed a respectable eight-win campaign in 2009 with an ugly 4-7 record last year.
And McMurray wants to make sure things turn around again, and quickly.
"Last year was totally non-productive," McMurray said. "We have to show some positive progress this season. We've got to, whether we feel good about where we are right now or not.
"I've challenged these men, and I've challenged their manhood, because we can't accept this. We've got to change what we're doing."
The Bruins have been hampered by a number of things recently, including weather knocking out a significant chunk of their scrimmage time. One was rained out and they got a quarter of another, leaving them with questions unanswered going into the season.
The one thing McMurray's counting on is more of a contribution from senior quarterback Shaq Williams, by virtue of him not having to do so much himself.
Williams led the Bruins with more than 900 yards passing and 700 yards rushing last season, but was occasionally the only threat on the field. This year, McMurray sees a deeper group of skill players who can contribute to the Spread offense, including players such as receivers Keanthony Foster, C.D. Pelham, Michael Cooper and Kaderrious Jackson. Running back Roy Watts will help in the running game, but McMurray wants Williams throwing the ball to take advantage of the team's speed.
"Shaq's a great athlete, and as he went last year, that's how we went," McMurray said. "We didn't throw enough last year, I think our leading receiver had about 400 yards, and our offense couldn't get any continuity going.
"I don't necessarily like tooting his horn above everyone else's, because he'd be the first to tell you his success depends on everyone around him."
Williams said he feels infinitely more comfortable running the offense with a year of starting experience under his belt.
"I think all the seniors have taken it up to be leaders this year," Williams said. "We're all working harder, and coach is getting on us harder than before. To me, it's starting to pay off. You can tell in practices, things are just starting to get a little easier as far as learning the offense, because all the backs and receivers have been doing it another year. That just helps us be more efficient when we practice.
"For last year to be my first year starting, I don't want to say it was embarrassing, but we expected more. There were a lot of guys who were on the 10-win team, so we definitely didn't expect it to go the way it did."
On defense, linebacker A.J. Williams captains a defense that returns just four starters. Most of the experience is in the back, as they're breaking in a line consisting largely of sophomores.
The senior linebacker said that's caused him to step out of character a bit, to become a little more vocal than he'd ordinarily be.
"I'm a pretty quiet guy," he said. "When I'm in the weight room or meetings, I'm not the kind to say much. But when we get out on the field I don't have any choice. I have to step up and be more of a leader, to help some of these young guys make sure they're in the right place."
Of course, vocal leadership's not a scarcity around Lancaster, where McMurray is blunt about the way things went last year, and his determination to fix them.
"We only won four games last year -- that's terrible," McMurray said. "I was very disappointed, because to be honest we underachieved last season.
"So far, we've had a good offseason, good participation in our workouts, but we'll see once the games start whether we're ready or not."
Darin Gantt 326-4312