Friday, August 10, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Focusing on the little things

Leader sports editor

Take care of the little things. That’s been a key focus for the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats football team all summer long. It’s still a major focus as the second week of preseason practice wraps up today. All the tools are in place for the Wildcats to make a serious run at a state championship. They return 18 starters, most of whom are three-year starters. They have more speed than most teams have in two or three seasons combined. They have one of the nation’s top running backs, a big, experienced and deep unit of linemen and a solid kicking game.

What’s still not certain is whether or not the team will take care of the little things. That’s why the NLRHS coaching staff, led by head coach Brad Bolding, is nitpicking every little thing this summer.

“Most years we have one of the most talented teams,” Bolding said. “But here’s the deal, we haven’t taken care of the little things. We haven’t had the discipline those northwest Arkansas teams have had. So that’s something we’ve focused heavily on since January. If your shoestring is untied, we’re doing up-downs. When we run, you can’t even put your hands on your head. You can’t say “I’m tired.”

We’ve had discipline. I’m not saying we’ve been out of control. But we’ve got a lot of experience and we know the system. So we’re really focusing on getting all our I’s dotted and our T’s crossed. We’re going to have to be the kind of team that takes care of those things if we want to be champions.”

This year’s preseason practices have included a new jersey system borrowed from the University of Nebraska. Key skill-position players wear red jerseys, which mean they are not to be taken to the ground during contact drills. Starting offensive linemen wear white jerseys. Starting defensive players wear black and backups wear yellow.

“Those black and yellow jerseys could change at the drop of a hat, and they have,” Bolding said. “We’re fortunate enough to have the kind of depth this year, where if you’re in black and you aren’t hustling, you could come out of that black jersey real quick. If you make a mental error, you could come out of that black jersey real quick.”

After spring practice in May, Bolding said he would probably wait until late August to name a starting quarterback. Now that’s changed.

“It might go through non-conference games before we make that decision,” Bolding said. “And we may end up working throughout the year with both of them.”

Junior Payton Holmes and sophomore Heath Land are battling for the top spot. Both are 6-feet and approximately 180 pounds.

“If you could take them and mold them together you could make one great quarterback right now,” Bolding said. Payton is a little further along in checks. He’s making good decisions and he’s a little better runner. Heath is throwing a better ball right now and he runs pretty good. It’s pretty close. There are so many variables that we grade and we do it at the end of the week, and the order changes.”

The Wildcats went on a senior retreat to Petit Jean Mountain State Park last week. Bolding wouldn’t give specifics about the seniors’ activities on the mountain, but said it’s something they’ve been doing a while and something he believes is beneficial.

“That’s where we worked out our captains,” Bolding said. “It’s a lot of team building. We got together and we nailed down our expectations and we come back and try to be leaders in achieving those expectations.”

Three weeks ago, the team took part in boot camp, staying a few days at Camp Robinson with the Arkansas National Guard putting them through daily, early morning training.

“They stayed in the barracks there and those guys with the National Guard really put them through it,” Bolding said. “It’s another team building thing and another way to learn the kind of discipline and attention to detail that we have to have.”

North Little Rock’s first live action will be Wednesday, Aug. 22 in a scrimmage game against Conway. The Wildcats open the season on Friday, Aug. 31 at home against Lake Hamilton.