Whether it’s the NFL or high school, preseason scrimmages and games mean very little. Coaches and players stress that at every opportunity. Just another chance to get a look at your team running plays against someone other than teammates.
But there are exceptions.
In the minutes after Norwalk’s 42-21 win over Mansfield Senior on Friday in the season opener, both Garrett Chapin and Trevon Raymore had a change in demeanor and body language.
Two of the many offensive stars in the win over the Tygers had been asked the subject of an Aug. 17 scrimmage at Huron — the final tune-up prior to the regular season.
Chapin, who was 9-of-12 passing for 196 yards and two touchdowns in his first varsity game, didn’t even let me finish my question about the Huron scrimmage.
“We didn't come out like we wanted to,” he said. “And then we didn't respond like we should've, either.”
It was indeed an ominous night for the Truckers in Huron. The start of the scrimmage was delayed by threatening weather. When it came time to play the live full half, Raymore was shaken up on the first play and did not return.
Norwalk was trailing 20-0 with about seven minutes left in the second quarter when the rest of the scrimmage was called because of more thunder and lightning. It simply wasn't a very good night.
"We just didn't come out as planned or how we wanted,” Raymore said. “I can't even explain why. Then I got hurt first play, and had to sit out. The weather was bad, and everyone just wasn't in it. It was just off. But we picked it up tonight.”
That’s one way of putting it. Raymore ran 26 times for 252 yards and a pair of scores as the Truckers racked up more than 400 yards of offense and six TDs.
First-year Norwalk coach Todd Fox also noted a change in demeanor following the Huron scrimmage. It was as if his team needed to break down and progressively build back up — and the end result was huge.
"What I saw this week was a process to reach tonight,” Fox said on Friday night. “On Monday they came in with a little more doubt about themselves. Things were tempered and they were asking, ‘How do we get better?’
“They didn't respond the way they wanted to, and we called it out,” he added. “The thing is, we're building a trusting relationship with everybody. It's coming along, and they obviously decided to start putting it together."
Or, as the sophomore Chapin put it, sometimes it is still about self-pride.
“It was definitely something we weren't proud of,” he said. “We wanted to change that; we wanted to make sure we didn't see that again.”
Perhaps most important from Friday is not erasing a bad scrimmage memory — but establishing what the victory can mean moving forward.
Mansfield was a team with 77 percent of its starting offense and defense back from a team that won eight games, a league title and reached the Division III playoffs. Regardless how the first two-plus quarters played out — when Norwalk raced out to a stunning 35-0 lead — that is a very good team that is still going to win a lot of games.
So what does that mean for the Truckers?
"It's definitely a confidence booster," Chapin said. "We all believe in ourselves now. We're ready to go and feel like we can take on anyone. We have some confidence in us and are having fun."
But beating the Tygers is only the first of many challenging games ahead — the Truckers had seven playoff teams on the schedule from 2017. However, if anything, Raymore thinks at the very least it says something.
In 2017, the junior ran for more than 1,200 yards and 14 TDs in nine games. He was a unanimous all-league selection and an All-Ohioan despite playing for a 3-7 team. But after admitting to being stunned at his rushing total on Friday, Raymore said he wants more wins, not accolades.
"I just run, I don't know how many yards I ever have," he said. "I just take the ball and run — I really don't have any idea how I'm doing. I kind of like it that way."
"But this win, it definitely puts us out there," he added. "This is a new year. We're definitely chasing after that top spot. Our seniors are all in. Everyone is all in on trying chasing wins. Whatever it takes."
What it's going to take is more performances like last week. Moving forward, the Norwalk players and coaches know there will be no built-in motivation such as the scrimmage, or what outsiders were predicting the result vs. Senior to be.
But that can only be a good thing, starting with the long trip Friday to Wayne County where the Truckers face Norwayne, a mid-sized playoff regular.
"Top to bottom we're very proud of our guys," Fox said. "Our coaches have done a great job, and we have a lot of room for improvement — but it's always great to start with a win and progress from there."