GENTRY (KFSM)--Before the camera starts rolling on Gentry head coach Paul Ernest, a group of junior high students walk by.
"Getting famous now coach! Going Hollywood on us!"
Ernest is quick with a correction. "It's actually a weight loss video. People watch my face and throw up."
As the day goes on, he proves that wit is not just self-deprecating. Coach Ernest has quips lined up for each of players as they take their turns being interviewed.
"They're gonna use that tape as security footage, cause no one wants to go into a building with that video playing outside."
During practice, that joking tone is mixed with a new level of intensity and an emphasis on repetition and mental toughness. At one point Ernest has to move the lineman out of the way so the offense can run pre-snap drills.
"Classic linemen, taking up too much space. And they're already mad at me because I ate their donuts or something."
Everyone smiles, but the laughs are short-lived when there's football to be practiced. This latest joking aside is followed by 15 minutes of running through the teams newest pre-snap calls and motions. Mistakes are made and corrected, and the drill keeps going until the corrections stop and each snap goes off smooth.
"That's what we need to work on," coach Ernest notes. "The fun stuff will come, but we have to really get good at the not so fun stuff. We've got to learn to play better when we're not asked to be the guy...to pursue on the back side of defense, to hold blocks longer on the back side of the running game, to run routes better when we're not the targeted receiver. There's a lot of small little things."
The goal of all this focus on the little things, the endless repetition that follows the jokes, is to compete. Since 2011, the Pioneers have won more than three games only once. In the two seasons so far with Ernest at the helm, they won three, then two.
"We haven't been the team that can overcome an early turnover, an early mistake, and we've got to get better," admits Ernest. "And I've think we've done that."
The Pioneers are scrapping the triple option, flex-bone offense they experimented with last season and returning to a two back spread system that they think will help cut down on those mistakes and mesh better with the talent they have. It's the same offense they ran when Ernest took over two years ago, and the same that senior quarterback Jon Faulkenberry, the latest in the line of Gentry Faulkenberrys, first became familiar with.
"That's big. What we're doing now is exactly the same thing Jon did as a sophomore, so he's come back and got into it pretty good."
Faulkenberry headlines a senior class that has been a long time coming for the Pioneers, with many of them now entering their third year as starters.
"Not many kids want to come out and play for a team that doesn't win very often," says Faulkenberry. But he and his fellow seniors are leading the way to try and change that. "We've all been looked up to more, the coaches depend on us more...just showing up every day, going to the weight room, not missing any reps. All you really need is experience and the drive to get better."
"If we can just get some more people to join, I think we'll get the push we need to make it to the playoffs," says senior tackle J.T. Crosby. Coach Ernest says right now he'd like to add 10-15 more players to the roster, which right now stands at 35. Still, he has more confidence in the depth of the team this year than in years past.
"Seems like a lot of the kids are able to play, as opposed to the last two years when we had a big gap between our starting 11 and everybody else. This year the gap seems to be closing. Of those 35, looks like we've got about 27 that can contribute and contribute right away, so we're excited."
For the seniors, just making the playoffs in their final season is the goal.
"All games are big games to us," says Faukenberry "because we want to make it to the playoffs."
"Just to get a playoff game, just one, would mean everything" adds Crosby.
And their reasons for wanting that playoff game extend beyond the Gentry campus.
"Gentry's pride in the community is unreal," says coach Ernest. "It's basically the lifeline. They want to see the kids succeed and do well."
When it comes to what a playoff game would mean to the team and to the town, coach and players are united, and they're not joking around. Senior running back Myles McFerron wants the team to repay some of that community pride.
"I would love to have a home playoff game. We always have a bunch of people at our games, we want to start winning for them."