Friday, May 28, 2010

SPORTS>>Big numbers boost Devils

Leader sportswriter

Improved numbers and size have led to improved efforts and hopes for the Jacksonville Red Devils.

The Red Devils showed up 64 players strong for their two weeks of spring football practice following a solid offseason. The final numbers will depend on final, second-semester grades and the players’ commitment to summer conditioning, but coach
Mark Whatley has liked what he has seen so far.

Jacksonville finished the last three days minus eight players who are out for American Legion baseball.

“Most of them, we have a pretty good idea of what they’re capable of anyway,” said Whatley, entering his fifth year at Jacksonville. “It would be nice to have them all in here, but we understand there’s obligations elsewhere.”

There has been good competition in several spots, and the squad has enough numbers at this point Whatley said players going one way in the fall is a strong possibility, providing those numbers hold up through the summer.

But one player, senior guard/linebacker Rhakeem James, reminds Whatley of old-school gridiron players.

“Rhakeem James has had just an unbelievable spring,” Whatley said. “He’s just a throwback; a committed football player — unselfish. He’s one that could go on both sides of the football and never come off the field.”

Whatley has spent most of the spring trying to get as many players as many repetitions as possible to see how they respond to different situations.

“We want to look at people in different spots and try to figure out when you get the big picture, how the whole is going to fit together,” Whatley said. “That’s the hardest thing.”

The plan for summer is 7-on-7 games beginning June 10 at Pulaski Robinson and team camps every Thursday after July 4.

With eight returning offensive starters, nine returning starters on defense and a successful offseason under their belts, Whatley said a year of experience and maturity should pay dividends for his players in the fall.

“We have a lot coming back, but we have a lot coming back off a 2-8 football team,” Whatley said. “So that’s yet to be seen how it turns out. I felt like we were in every ball game last year except for two of them. We got down to the wire and weren’t able to finish some off.

“Hopefully, with as many kids coming back who have been through that war, we can find a way to finish it.”

Whatley was pleased with the gains made in the weight room over the winter, and also said the offseason included more running than in previous offseasons. The workout schedule included a combination of muscle-confusion routines, which
Whatley wants to continue.

“I think the linemen are really going to benefit from that provided we continue to do it throughout the summer,” he said.

There will be plenty of proven talent in the offensive backfield, including incoming senior running backs John Johnson and Keith Mosby, along with senior quarterback Logan Perry. Whatley complimented Perry’s performance this spring and noted his improvements not just in fundamentals, but also in leadership and high-pressure situations.

“He’s had a good spring, he really has,” Whatley said Thursday. “Yesterday, he came out and did a heck of a job. He understands everything in and out. He’s kind of at the point now where he’s directing, and he can make something out of nothing now, which separates great quarterbacks from good ones, and I’ve seen some of that in him this year.”