Friday, July 19, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> ASU camp cut short, Devils remain positive

Leader sports editor

Persistent lightning kept the two dozen or so football teams that showed up for the Arkansas State University 7-on-7 and linemen camp, including the Jacksonville Red Devils, pinned underneath the Red Wolves’ Stadium concourse for most of the day Thursday, even though storms didn’t arrive in the Jonesboro area for hours after the event was finally called off.

There was supposed to be four pools of six teams each in 7-on-7. Each pool was scheduled to play a round robin with the top two moving on to an eight-team tournament. Instead, each team played just three games.

Jacksonville’s trouble started earlier, as the team bus had a flat on the way to Jonesboro. The team arrived only minutes before the first-scheduled game at 11:30 a.m., and the first delay was called just as the team took the field. After two hours under the concourse, which is the concession area underneath the home side of the stadium, teams made it back to the field where they rushed through three games.

Despite all the bad luck, Jacksonville coach Rick Russell thought it was a positive experience. His team went 2-1, starting with a 19-2 win over Gibson County of Dyer, Tenn. The Red Devils then lost 23-8 to defending Shootout of the South champion Lake Hamilton.

Jacksonville was leading Mitchell High School, a Memphis school that plays in the largest classification in Tennessee, 17-14 with four minutes left when the second delay was called and teams were ushered back to the concourse. Jacksonville had just stopped Mitchell with a three-and-out series and was moving the ball when the delay began at about 3:45 p.m.

“We didn’t get as much work in as we’d have liked, but we came here to identify things we’re doing well and maybe not so well, and I think we did that to a certain extent,” said Russell. “We saw a few things we need to work on and we saw some things we were pleased with.

“I thought we did a pretty good job on defense most of the day. We had a couple of breakdowns against Lake Hamilton. But holding that team to 21 points is an accomplishment. They generally score a lot more than that. Offensively we just have to be sharper in our execution. The teams like that, that’s been playing this style for a long time, they know and recognize things and you just have to be better.”

The linemen from all the teams were in a separate camp, and Russell wasn’t able to make it over to get a feel for how his players were performing.

“They went fully dressed out and it took them longer to get on the field,” Russell said. “I think they had just barely gotten started when everything got called again.”

Despite getting in far less work than anticipated, the head Red Devil still believes his team had a great summer.

“The whole body of work this summer is going to be such a big positive for us,” Russell said. “Last year we only went to one of these things, this one. This year we did three of them and we went to the meets at Beebe and Cabot. And you can see the confidence the kids have in what we’re doing. “It’s been a great summer.”