Spain: Dracs look to tweak their mentality ahead of season’s final stretch

With over half the 2023 season a thing of the past and the playoffs in sight, the Badalona Dracs know it’s time to stop messing around. That’s why, despite improving to 5-0 with a 27-21 win against the Zaragoza Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon, players left the field frustrated knowing they didn’t give their best performance as a team.

For Badalona, a playoff run starts now as only three games remain in its regular season schedule: home against the L’Hospitalet Pioners, at the Valencia Firebats and against the Mallorca Voltors to close out their 2023 Liga Nacional de Fútbol Americano Serie A campaign. As the final stretch gets underway, the Dracs are focusing on shifting their mentality.

“I believe we’re too big for our britches sometimes,” quarterback Kevin Doyle said. “We need to step it up and I need to see more preparation Monday through Saturday to play on Sunday. We can’t just show up on the weekend and expect to win.”

With talent all over the field and a defense that lives to create chaos and turnovers, the Dracs are undefeated for good reason. However, their biggest weakness may be a natural sense of hubris.

With 11 LNFA league titles and countless Spanish Cups, Badalona has always fostered a tradition of winning. It has the resources and coaching staff to be a league favorite every season, but in American football, like any sport, the game itself still must be played. A culture of winning is important, but it’s often a double-edged sword that fosters overconfidence. Players and coaches know they need to allow the talent to speak for itself on the field.

“We have a bad mentality right now,” tight end Raúl Cernuda said. “We know that we’re good, but I think we’re starting to believe we’re better than we are. That’s something we have to fix.”

Badalona defenders surround Zaragoza ball carrier Photo: Vicente Cabello

It doesn’t matter if you’re the Kansas City Chiefs, Alabama Crimson Tide or Badalona Dracs, no team in the world is good enough to win every week while turning the ball over several times in bad areas, committing tacky penalties and not capitalizing on opportunities in the red zone. Fixing that mentality and the errors it leads to begins with doing the little things that don’t appear in a box score.

“It starts with running out onto the field to begin a series,” Doyle said. “We need to chase the running back when he runs the ball. We need everyone to do their job and their part, giving 100% effort 110% of the time.”

It also involves building good habits throughout a season so it’s muscle-memory come the postseason. Flags for jumping across the line of scrimmage seconds before a snap, conceding free play after free play, are unacceptable. Flags for having too many men on the field are also correctable. On offense, Doyle is first to admit there’s plenty to clean up, from eliminating the momentum-shifting fumbles to throwing interceptions while trying to force a pass into a tight area. A team with title aspirations, players know those mistakes, while surmountable in Zaragoza, could prove devastating in April.

“We probably gave up around 80 yards in penalties,” defensive back Jeremiah Gutierrez said. “We have to be able to execute the simple stuff. Yeah, we won [against Zaragoza] but when it comes to other teams that are as good as us, if not better, such as the [Rivas] Osos and [Las Rozas] Black Demons we have to be more disciplined.”

Badalona lining up against Zaragoza Photo: Vicente Cabello

It’s not just the Zaragoza game either, Badalona has yet to play a completely clean game. Coach Román Villamonte’s team was up 17-0 and held complete control in its game against Mallorca on February 19 before it fumbled a kickoff return and later fumbled the ball on a running play, both times giving the Voltors the ball in the red zone. Luckily for the Dracs, the Voltors only capitalized on one of those opportunities.

The Hurricanes gave Badalona an important reminder this week that should prove beneficial in the long run. The Dracs are talented, but not good enough to consistently play through the errors of their own making. They barely hung on against Zaragoza, who had the ball in the final minutes with an opportunity to score the game-winning touchdown.

“The mistakes that we’re making are by choice, they’re bad habits,” Gutierrez said. “We need to break those. We’re hungry, but we also have to be able to chill and have discipline as well.”

Those little fixes begin with shifting the collective mindset. If there’s any positive to take away, it’s that the coaches and players have diagnosed these issues at the right time. Now it’s up to them to make the proper adjustments in the coming practices.

“In the end, we can be better, I know we can,” Doyle said. “That’s why I’m pushing our guys so much and focusing on our team. I know we have hope and each week we’re one piece away. We need to put that all together in the weeks to come at practice.”