Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SPORTS >> Jacksonville participation high for summer workouts

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devil football team is back at work after the dead period that ended July 3. The squad has been working out and practicing throughout summer break, sans the dead period, every Monday and Thursday for two hours each day.

Jacksonville head coach Rick Russell has been very pleased with participation numbers, with a total of about 50-60 players from ninth through 12th grades showing up for mid-summer drills.

“We’ve got kind-of-a depth chart right now,” Russell said. “We’ve had everybody here this summer that we’re counting on. I’m thinking we’re going to have a full ship.” They will be heading to a team camp of sorts on July 21 at Arkansas State University. The camp will break down into a lineman’s camp, and a 7-on-7 competition, which Russell believes works best for his team.

“Well you know the linemen get left out of 7-on-7, so we jumped on the chance to get our linemen some work and make it a whole-team activity. I think the kids are really looking forward to it.”

Many teams take part in weekly 7-on-7 meetings with the same group of teams each week. Jacksonville has done it in the past and Russell believes that can be helpful, but looks forward to the chance to compete against some teams that aren’t quite as familiar as the ones nearby.

“When you’re always competing against each other, it’s competitive but it also gets mechanical. When you get different teams out there, the competitiveness really comes out, the execution gets a little more intense. Like I said, we’re really looking forward to it.”

In practices so far, there haven’t been 60 players at every workout, with some players in American Legion or other baseball teams, some have played AAU basketball, but Russell says the players have met the basic obligations.

“We want everyone to make at least 80 percent of the workouts and I think we’ve had that,” Russell said. “We want them to have a little bit of a summer too, but in this day if you don’t work during the summer, you’re falling behind. I want kids who play baseball to play baseball. That’s a summer sport and I think a sport in season takes priority over one that’s not. But we’ve had the kids here and I’m very proud of that.”

Russell expressed some specific praise for certain players, starting with defensive end Aaron Davis.

He rotated in the lineup last year, but has worked himself into a starting role for his senior year.

“He has had a really good spring and offseason,” Russell said. “He’s increased his size, strength and quickness and worked hard to do it.”

Dustin Hamilton has also impressed coaches.

“He’s been at every summer workout and worked extremely hard,” Russell said. “We have him at starting offensive guard and he’s worked at linebacker too.”

Jacarius Jordan was a safety last year who has improved his quickness and may work at cornerback this season and likely to play offense as well, according to Russell.

“He had a tremendous spring offensively,” Russell said.

He will be joined in the offensive backfield by Cortez Brown, who Russell says has stepped into the role as starting fullback.

“He’s the best fullback we’ve got and one of the best outside linebackers. We don’t want too many people going both ways, but him and (Jacarius) have really looked good on both sides of the ball.”

Another name that Russell spoke specifically about was Demerio Williams. Williams also impressed offensively after having played mostly defensive end last year.

“In spring we moved him to linebacker and he looked really good,” Russell said. “He also had a good spring on offense at tight end. We put him there to see what he could do, and did great. He caught the ball, he was blocking really well, very aggressive.”

Kevin Richardson has turned into somewhat of a utility player, and one who the Red Devils will be counting on.

“He made all conference for us at safety last year,” Russell said. “He’s another kid who has some moves on offense and he’ll probably play some slot receiver for us. He’s also our backup quarterback and he does it all well. We’re very proud of him.”

Returning quarterback starter Tirrell Brown has also looked good and Russell sees him picking up where he left off.

Practice for football teams across the state officially begins in less than three weeks, and Russell believes everyone will be healthy heading into those preseason drills.

“It’s been a short summer,” Russell said. “We got out so late and depth is always an issue, so one of the things we’ve tried to do is keep everyone healthy.”