DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — For Walton, the victories from the preseason kickoff classic were two-fold.
A 17-12 varsity lead over Holmes County at halftime was the first win, a victory punctuated by an ability to move the chains and generate timely stops.
But even if the scoreboard was flipped, a moral victory would have rested on the Braves finally getting some live reps following a inclement-weather August.
"I think we were in the gym more than we were outside," quipped the veteran coach, who led Fort Walton Beach to a state title in 1991 and has enjoyed Division I assistant coaching stints at Florida, Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State. "We did some good things and there was a lot of promise. There was also a lot of early mistakes, but that's to be expected."
The mistakes had a lot to do with getting used to the speed of the game, Stephens voiced. But the main takeaway was the experience for a junior-laden Braves team, which lost two of its best players in linebacker/running back Dre Matthews and starting quarterback Thomas Brack to graduation. Boding well for the Braves is they return a slew of playmakers, including running back Kentrell Parker, tight end Eyin Cole, receiver/safety Elijah Neal, senior running back Javon Graham and senior offensive lineman John Van Eycken.
"Friday night was fun after all the bad weather," he said. "Getting to scrimmage was a relief, but we still feel like we're a week behind. Some players are affected more than others, so we just have to build up that experience and get everyone used to Fridays.
"We still have a long ways to go."
Mosley would probably argue the same coming off last year's 4-6 season. Even so, Stephens sees a foe "big on the lines and full of depth."
"We play one of the best, if not the best teams on our schedule right out of the gate Week 1," he said. "Hopefully we make a big improvement from our performance in the kickoff classic."
While Walton didn't match Mosley's win total last year, they managed to win a district title and advance to the playoffs. The district crown has since been replaced by a regional seeding playoff system, and Stephens is well aware his team's focus is finding consistency.
"The bottom line is we need to win games and to do that we have to find consistency," he said. "We just need to take it one game a time."