Friday, August 09, 2013

SPORTS STORYS>>Devils ahead of last year

Leader sports editor

The Red Devil football team has made big strides in one week of official fall practice. The team had a big head start this year.

First-year offensive coordinator Adam Thrash started working with the team in December of last year. Head coach Rick Russell was the longtime JHS defensive coordinator and his scheme was already well known to several returning defensive starters.

“We’re way ahead of where we were at this time last year,” Russell said. “We had a busy summer, an active summer. Lots of participation and the kids are just ahead. It’s been a great first week.”

Numbers aren’t quite as high as Russell would like them to be, with about 45 out for practice on Friday for the first day with helmets and shoulder pads. Two more showed up on Friday wanting to play but were held out of practice pending physicals. Several took off the pads and stopped the contact after suffering stingers, which Russell supports.

“I feel really good about the talent we have to put on the field, but we’re not very deep so we’re not taking any chances,” Russell said.

Russell stressed playing hard and with aggressiveness during the off-season in years past, and it backfired last year with injuries to key players before the season started.

He’s already practicing without one of the best receivers on the team after a freak accident in 7-on-7 competition put Terrell Moore out of action at least through week one of the season, and possibly through all nonconference games.

“He gets the boot off on Sept. 5 and starts therapy,” Russell said. “After that it’s up to him and the doctors. It’s a pretty bad injury to his foot so we’ll just wait and see. You just can’t tell right now.

“But we’re doing things a little different this year and we’re being a little more cautious. We don’t want any injuries that could be prevented.”

Depth isn’t as much of an issue in the skill positions. Russell says he has more capable skill players this year than in any other, but linemen depth is a major issue. JHS lost two starters to grades; the impact of which the head coach says the team can take. But it can’t take much more.

“I still feel really good about the starters we have,” Russell said. “Losing two of them hurts our depth, and you can never have too much depth on the lines, but I still think we have a solid group of starters. Staying healthy from this point is going to be key for us.”

Senior Reggie Barnes continues to flourish in the starting quarterback role in Thrash’s spread offense. Sophomore Brandon Hickingbotham has also drawn praise from the OC, and junior Caleb Price continues to improve, according to Russell.

Coaches also expect numbers to pick up next week. AAU basketball, which ended this week, kept a few players out of the first week of football practice. Several other players who participated in summer workouts and 7-on-7 were gone this week for various reasons. Russell expects between 55 and 60 players on the field by the end of next week.

Jacksonville’s Red-White game is scheduled for Aug. 24.