Saturday, May 23, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils focusing on basics

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville football team practiced just twice last week in its first springtime action. After early reports of as many as 83 student-athletes participating in offseason workouts, only 50 suited up and donned the pads for spring contact drills.

Those 50 have done only a small amount of football contact. Coach Barry Hickingbotham has taken a slow approach to things at the start.

“We’re focusing on attention to detail,” said Hickingbotham. “Things like proper technique, alignments, stances, ball security drills. It’s like starting over. Important things for us right now are ball security – catching and tucking. For the linemen, we’re learning to step with the right foot. We’re running routes, catching balls, seeing if any kids are going to surprise us.”

The two score and 10 players working out in pads is not the total number the Jacksonville coaches expect to have. Another dozen or so watched from the sidelines.

“You come to our practice and you’re going to see 10 or 12 guys in black T-shirts and gray shorts standing there watching, and they’re not injured,” Hickingbotham said. “You’re not going to have an F on your report card and practice. You have to get people’s attention, and we’re talking about some starters included in that. When we handed out pads, some kids wanted to know why they weren’t getting any, and we’d show them their report card. It gets their attention in a hurry.”

For the ones who did practice, coaches are letting players practice in positions they may not have played often.

“We’re giving kids a chance to try something different if they think they can help the team in certain positions,” Hickingbotham said. “We’ll evaluate where they’re at, but we’re still going to put people where we think they’ll help the most. We just wanted to give some kids a chance to prove something to us if they really wanted to try something.

“I don’t want to say it’s been totally laid back, but it’s been a little more relaxed. We’re not going crazy knocking each other around just yet.”

One thing coaches did try to step up the intensity with was offseason weight lifting. Defensive coordinator Brian McDermott took a group to the state weight-lifting competition for the first time in many years. While the team didn’t win any events, the preparation did help to make great strides in several players.

“We had quite a few make solid gains in the weight room,” Hickingbotham said. “Avery Wells is a senior and he had big gains. Pound for pound he’s probably our strongest guy. Terry Brown’s another senior that’s worked hard in the weight room and he’s made big gains.

“We wanted to let kids know what it’s going to take to be successful. And when you get to that competition and see the kids that are winning those events and those weight classes, it’s the guys from those teams that are getting to the semifinals and state championship games.”

Jacksonville will resume workouts on Monday, with a team scrimmage tentatively planned for Friday.