Friday, August 05, 2011

SPORTS>>SH Bears battling familiar problem

Leader sports writer

Another year of August football practice yields a new list of challenges for Sylvan Hills coach Jim Withrow.

Withrow, now in his fifth season at the Bears’ helm, is adjusted to handling depth issues due to countless injuries to key personnel over the past half decade, and has made the most of squads thick with inexperienced underclassmen.

And with a new summer full of average numbers and another young roster, late vacationers are an added hindrance to Withrow in early 2011.

“We’re basically trying to find a way to establish some depth for the most part,” Withrow said. “We could crank the intensity a little bit more.”

Withrow expects around 55 players once the season starts, though some of the daily practice numbers have been as low as 40.

“We’ve had all sorts of issues,” Withrow said. “Some in this group have not been impressive as far as commitment. We’ve had all summer to vacation, and now, suddenly, you’ve got to go onvacation, but that’s me.

“For the most part, the ones we really need are here.”

The Bears will try and rebound from a difficult 3-7 result in 2010, a run that included a 2-5 record in the 5A-Southeast Conference. It was the first time in four years Sylvan Hills did not reach the postseason since former coach Ron Sebastian’s final season in 2006.

The Bears completed their first day of pads Thursday morning, which gave Withrow and the coaching staff their first full look at some of the projected starters. There could be as many as four sophomores on offense and anywhere from two to four on defense. But it’s not too far of a stretch for the Bears, who last year started several seniors with little or no varsity time.

“We had those guys who were seniors but had not played,” Withrow said. “Now, I’m looking in those groups, and we’re dealing with three or four sophomores on defense and another two or three on offense. I mean, we’re young.

“We’re young, but if they play hard and get after it, we’ll be okay. But it’s baby steps right now for sure, and with the second group, it’s ugly.”

Depth is the main motto for Withrow, but he does have a sure ace under center with junior quarterback John David Miller. Miller had varsity time early last season before a back injury sidelined him before the start of conference play.

Miller will lead the Bears on offense with their traditional spread offense.

“He’s not totally new to it,” Withrow said. “He’s got his good spots and his bad spots, but he’s getting more consistent.”

Withrow noted a need for more reps on the offensive line, but is also happy to have experienced seniors such as Ed Smith and Aaron Mack in the mix up front. Smith will be a three-year starter when the Bears hit the field against Vilonia on Aug. 29, the first of seven home games listed on the schedule for Sylvan Hills this season.

No team in this part of the country can escape the heat that comes with August workouts, but athletic director and assistant football coach Denny Tipton has led a successful safety campaign on the practice field up to this point.

“He’s taken it by the horns and got us organized,” Withrow said. “They’ve handled it pretty well. The first day in pads wasn’t much of a problem for us.”