Tuesday, August 05, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Team getaway a hit for Devils

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville football team, along with every other team in the state, opened preseason practice on Monday. But it was how the Red Devils closed the offseason that has first-year head coach Barry Hickingbotham excited.

The Jacksonville coaching staff and team left last Wednesday for Walnut Ridge, where it spent three days isolated on the Williams Baptist College campus practicing, competing and bonding.

Hickingbotham called the getaway a “huge success” in laying the foundation for the kind of program he wants to build at JHS.

“We want to build a family here,” said Hickingbotham. “First thing we did was took their phones as they got on the bus. They had to talk to each other because there was no one else. There was us, the cafĂ© workers and like three other people. One coach commented in the cafeteria that it was getting loud in here. I said that’s good, it needs to get loud in here. They need to be getting to know each other, their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. That’s what family does.”

Having no contact with anyone but teammates and coaches for three days wasn’t a problem for players.

“When we first got up there, you could tell they didn’t really know what to do, but by the second day they didn’t even seem to miss it,” Hickingbotham said.

A few of the parents didn’t adjust as well to kids being away from home for several days for the first time.

“A few parents called at night wanting to make sure everything is OK,” Hickingbotham said. “I told them I’d give their boy a hug for them and let them call tomorrow. If they’d wanted me to tuck them in, I’d tuck them in. If they’d wanted me to read them a bedtime story, I’d read them a bedtime story Whatever it takes.

“This wasn’t a boot camp. We wanted them to have fun and I think they had a great time.”

Upon arrival, the 55 players were split into six teams and those six teams remained together throughout the camp. At the end of practice each day, the teams would compete in different activities. Following one practice it was volleyball, another was kickball, another was ultimate football. After competing with each other, the winner would play the coaches.

“Of course they beat us every day,” Hickingbotham said.

Another team activity was a talent show, in which members of each team would work out sketches in which they would imitate coaches. Hickingbotham said senior defensive tackle Anthony Fields did a Jerry Wilson impersonation that brought the house down.

It wasn’t all fun and games. There was work to do as well.

Wakeup call was at 5:30 a.m. Players went to breakfast and then to work out. After morning practice they broke for lunch then got two hours off which most used to nap. It was then up for “chalk talk”, in which coaches would lay the groundwork for the afternoon practice.

After that was special teams work then competition before supper.

After supper there was 30-minute break before going back outside for 90 minutes of 7-on-7 until 8:30 p.m.

There was a team meeting from 9 to 9:30, snacks, then lights out by 10:15.

“We had them from 5:30 a.m. till 10:15 p.m.” Hickingbotham said. “We didn’t have any trouble out of anyone. They worked hard. They accomplished a lot. They got to know each other. I was extremely pleased with how it all worked out.”

Hickingbotham was hesitant to talk about progress in game planning, saying right now the primary focus is still laying the foundation for how he expects players to handle themselves.

“We’re trying to get them to go hard for 48 minutes,” Hickingbotham said. “We’re trying to teach them to let failures go and move on. How we handle failure will determine how successful we can be, because there will be failures. Right now we want them to play hard for 48 minutes, then we might peak up at the scoreboard as we’re walking up the hill to the locker room. Because if we’ve given the very best effort we can give for 48 minutes, we’ve won no matter what that scoreboard says.”