Friday, August 03, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Few Carlisle starters return

Leader sportswriter

The Carlisle Bison football team was all business Wednesday evening in the third official day of fall practice. The Bison players were in helmets, shorts and shoulder pads during the practice session that went from 5 to 7:35 p.m. next to Fred C. Hardke Memorial Field.

Even though it wasn’t a full contact day, the intensity was there as both the coaches and players were ready to get on the practice field after an active summer.

The Bison have participated in multiple team camps as well as 7 on 7 tournaments throughout the summer in hopes to build on last season’s success, where the Bison finished 13-1.

The team’s only loss came in the class 2A state championship game when the Bison fell 45-20 to Strong.

“Football now is a year-round sport,” said Carlisle coach Scott Waymire. “Our kids are really dedicated. They’ve worked hard during summer workouts, and we’ve participated in team camps at UCA and Pulaski Academy. We also had a 7 on 7 tournament at Pulaski Academy. So, we’ve had a good summer and kept the kids active.”

Twelve players from the 2011 state runner-up team graduated, but the Bison return five starters on defense and three on the offensive side. Senior all-state tackle Clayton Fields returns to anchor the offensive line, and junior all-state running back Bo Weddle, who rushed for more than 1,600 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore, returns as well.

When asked who has emerged as one of the leaders and playmakers for the Bison, who have 38 players on the roster, Waymire was quick to point out senior quarterback/defensive back Chris Hart, who split time at quarterback last season with graduated all-state performer Zach King.

Last season, King’s leadership and consistency was key to the team’s success. But when the Bison wanted or needed to move the ball through the air, Hart was often the one under center. In 2011, Hart completed 31 of 53 passes (58 percent) for 528 yards and 11 touchdowns to one interception. As the full-time starter now, Waymire expects big things from the athletic senior.

“I’ve been very, very proud of him,” Waymire said of Hart. “His character and his leadership – that’s what we need out of him. We know he’s a good athlete and a smart football player. But we need him to take control of the team and be that guy. Be that guy that everybody knows is going to do the right thing. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a 17-year-old, but he’s done a great job so far.”

The fast-paced practice Wednesday started with an emphasis on the Bison defense. Waymire worked with the defensive backs while the linebackers and defensive linemen worked separately with assistant coaches through various drills.

Weddle led the Bison in tackles last season with 113 at linebacker. Junior Deron Ricks, an all-conference linebacker in 2011, is a force at shedding blocks and making tackles in open space. Fields is expected to lead the Bison front four. Hart returns at corner, where he was named to the all-6-2A team. Austin Reed mans the other corner spot.

Although the Bison were in shorts, the shoulder pads were popping during form-tackling drills. When it was time for the defense as a unit to come together and get its work in, each play run by the scout team wasn’t blown dead until all 11 Bison defenders were where the ball was.

In large part due to the scorching heat, significant rule changes have been made this summer regarding how teams can prepare for the upcoming season.

The new guidelines set by the Arkansas Activities Association have limited the amount of practice time for teams around the state.

These new guidelines have changed the practice routines of some teams, but according to Waymire, the rule changes haven’t changed the team’s approach for practice all that much.

“It really hasn’t,” Waymire said when asked if the new AAA guidelines have affected his approach to practice. “We’re kind of fortunate we get another week of practice before our scrimmage, because we got three weeks before school starts. So, it really doesn’t affect us. Our number one thing is the welfare of our players and coaches. That’s what we’re going to put first and foremost.”