Tuesday, June 02, 2009

SPORTS >> New head coach Russell putting program in place at North Pulaski

Leader sports editor

Rick Russell is probably hoping the month of June isn’t quite as hectic as May.

The new North Pulaski football coach spent all of last month attending to his teaching duties at Jacksonville High School before heading to North Pulaski in the afternoons for Falcon spring football.

Russell, a long-time defensive coordinator at Jacksonville, took over the head coaching job at North Pulaski on May 1 when he replaced seven-year head coach Tony Bohannon. The job was already a challenging one, given the Falcons’ 5-65 record over the past seven years. It became even more challenging with Russell’s ongoing duties at Jacksonville High School. Then, Russell found out that due to a scheduling problem, the players who showed up for spring football wouldn’t be getting their physicals until the last week in June. That meant no contact during spring practice, which just concluded last week.

None of that seemed to faze Russell, who sounded enthusiastic about the turnout, both in terms of numbers and quality.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s been a good experience getting to know the kids. I’ve been kind of busy, teaching at one school and rushing to the other school. But I’m really pleased with having 50 coming out. Especially with a new coach and with not having an athletic period. It showed commitment by the kids to be willing to come out after school.”

Russell said that not being able to have contact really didn’t slow down the Falcons’ progress much because there was already so much new stuff to put in place. He compared the two weeks of spring football to the first three days of August football, when contact is also limited.

“We were in helmets and shoulder pads and we were able to do a lot of drill work,” he said. “We saw them run, saw how they moved, how they lined up and pursued. We were able to see them throw and catch and cover each other. We saw a lot of things we needed to see.”

Russell was especially excited about the athleticism in his secondary and by the pursuit and movement of the entire defense.

He credited secondary and running backs coach Terrod Hatcher with the progress the defense has made.

On offense, the big factor will be how well a mostly new offensive line develops. The Falcons lost a big group up front and will focus more on smaller, speedier linemen this fall.

“It’s hard to replace those big kids on the offensive line,” he said. “We’re working on strength and quickness.”

North Pulaski lost two-year starter A.J. Allen at quarterback as well as all-purpose threat Jerald Blair. But three sophomore running backs return to join football newcomer DaQuan Bryant, a talented athlete who helped lead the North Pulaski basketball team to a berth in the 5A state title game in March.

“DaQuan is a college prospect in both sports,” Russell said. “He’s got the body that you want and for a guy carrying 200 pounds, he moves great.”

Juniors-to-be Darius Cage, Billy Barron and Bryan Coulson are all back to help shore up the backfield. Sophomore Shyheim Barron took the most snaps at quarterback this spring. Russell said Shyheim is athletic and visualizes the field extremely well and that he can throw the ball downfield.

Russell said the Falcons would run out of multiple sets on offense, including a Veer option and two- and three-back power sets.

North Pulaski has most of the coaching staff in place, though Russell said he still has one position to fill.

Strength and endurance were key priorities when Russell took over last month. Thus far he’s happy with the progress.

“We’re on schedule,” he said. “We’re emphasizing muscle endurance through three basic lifts — the clean, the squat and the bench press. We should be able to make the increases throughout the summer as planned.”

Russell has scrapped plans to participate in the Pulaski Robinson 7-on-7 tournament next week. Instead, the team will practice Mondays and Thursdays through July and will participate in a 7-on-7 scrimmage against Cabot on July 15.