Tuesday, August 05, 2008

SPORTS>> Scorching heat greets Red Devils

Leader sportswriter

Close to 65 potential Red Devils braved the August heat for the first morning of football two-a-days at Jacksonville High School on Monday.

The bulk of the first session that ran from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. was spent finalizing paperwork, but coach Mark Whatley and his staff did get to time players in the 40-yard dash, along with testing linemen on the weight bench.

They finished up their first session at Jan Crow Stadium with a 12-minute run to test everyone’s level of conditioning.

The Red Devils’ participation in summer 7 on 7 football was limited, but Jacksonville did host a pair of camps over the past two Thursdays with Vilonia and Little Rock Catholic.

Whatley said participation in the two camps should help shorten the learning curve this month.

“We’ve had a pretty good turnout over the summer in the weight room, especially the younger guys,” Whatley said.

“We’ve got a good starting point. The team camps this past month helped us a bunch. We feel like in knowing what to do we are a little ahead of the game.

“We’ve got to get back and get better with our technique, and go back and start coaching the little bitty things that make the difference. You know, the hand placement, steps with our feet, head placement, where you’re supposed to be — all the parts that go into executing a football play. This bunch knows the scheme pretty well; we just have to get a lot better at executing it.”

Whatley said there seemed to be more progress this summer over his previous three years as head Devil, despite the lack of 7 on 7 play.

“We didn’t do as much 7 on 7 as we have in the past two or three years,” Whatley said. “A lot of it was because we wanted to do our team camp stuff. I hope we got quite a bit out of that. Plus, we do a lot of 7 on 7 on our own. We just didn’t go to any tournaments this time. We feel like we we’re further along mentally, but we’re no where near where we need to be technique-wise.”

Just as it is every year, the heat is a concern for Whatley and the coaching staff. With heat indices in excess of 115 degrees expected this week, longtime trainer Jason Cates could be the most valuable member of the JHS staff, he said.

“That’s something that’s always a concern,” Whatley said. “Fortunately, we have Jason Cates and he does a remarkable job with keeping the kids hydrated and educated on what’s going on.

“He met with them for 45 minutes to an hour this morning just on how to take care of themselves and how to communicate. We certainly don’t want to lose anyone.

“Hopefully, we’ll monitor that. We have them weighed before and after practice, and we’ll make sure that we’re monitoring how much weight loss is actually taking place due to the heat, and provide as much fluids as we possibly can.”

The Red Devils will practice every morning from 8 a.m. until 11:30 a.m., and will get together again in the afternoon from 4 to 5. Today will be the last day of non-pad practice, with helmets and shoulder pads making their first appearance on the field on Thursday morning.