Saturday, July 12, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Badgers showing promise at camp

Leader sports editor

The Beebe football team jumped back into action with both feet this week after the two-week mandated dead period in which athletes are not allowed on school campuses or to be directed by coaches.

The Badgers went through three full practices and played at the Conway High School team camp on Wednesday. Against live competition, there were signs of potential for the upcoming season, but what pleased head coach John Shannon most this week and since spring practice, has been this group’s work ethic.

“We’ve had four really good practices this week,” said Shannon. “This group looks like it’s going to be a group that wants to work hard. In fact, I haven’t had a group work this hard and be this committed since my second year. So I’m pretty excited right now.”

Shannon worked almost exclusively with the offense at the team camp, where the point of the camp was not to win games but to get better by practicing against live competition in game situations. While Shannon didn’t see much of the defensive play, he says the reports he got from the defensive coaches were good ones, especially the five interceptions by the secondary.

“This group here has a chance to be one of the best secondaries we’ve ever had,” Shannon said. “We have three returning starters that are all pretty athletic, then throw in Tyson Woodall. Skill-player wise, we’re better, at least more talented, than we’ve been in a long time.”

The offense had a few stumbles early, but things smoothed out later in the camp and the team got tired, but Shannon still liked what he saw.

“I thought it went really well for the first time back doing anything since, really, the middle of June,” Shannon said. “We made some mistakes but we got better as the day went on. Our conditioning was off a little bit, but that’s to be expected the first week back. We worked hard four days this week and I feel like we got better. That’s what the month of July is for, to get them in shape and get them ready for August.”

Quarterback Aaron Nunez, a senior who missed almost all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, showed promise that the old injury is no longer bothering him.

“Nunez did a wonderful job of running the option,” Shannon said. “Coming back off the ACL, he did a good job of running the ball and making the right reads.”

The Beebe running backs are also a promising unit. Junior Tripp Smith returns at fullback as one of only two 2,000-yard rushers in the state from last season. Joe Wyrick, a transfer from Augusta, has also shown a knack at halfback, but Shannon says he is still learning the system. Xavier Jones ran for almost 2,000 yards for the Beebe ninth-grade team last year. He will get some carries this year as well, but will likely see a lot of his playing time on the defensive line.

“Really and truthfully, at 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, running a 4.7, he could help us out at defensive tackle a lot,” Shannon said. “We need to find two of them and his size and athleticism fits that bill. Now we did put him at halfback at times and had him lead block for Smith. And when we did that, with 240 running a 4.7 leading 205, 4.5, there wasn’t many times anybody was able to handle that. So there are a lot of options for Jones. He’s a special athlete.”

There are still plenty of things to work on, and the team has to try to replace almost its entire starting offensive line from last year. There are a few other question marks as the preseason approaches, but Shannon is optimistic right now.

“Are we a good football team right now? I don’t think I could say that,” Shannon said. “Are we in shape like we need to be? No we’re not. But we’ve had four good hard practices. And if this team will keep working like they’ve been working, I’m not worried about that at all.”