Wednesday, July 29, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Devils shine at 7-on-7

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville came up just short of winning its own Aim High/Let it Fly 7-on-7 Tournament Friday at Jan Crow Stadium. The Jacksonville Red team had a last-second, 4-yard play to beat Sylvan Hills in the championship, but the Bears came up with the defensive stop. Another Jacksonville squad, the Gray team, finished third, beating Little Rock Central in overtime of the third-place game.

“We’re proud of them,” Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham said of his players. “The Red was pretty much our senior bunch and the Gray was a couple of seniors, and all the others were juniors and sophomores. And we’re proud of all of them.”

The quarterback for the Red team, Brandon Hickingbotham, won the quarterback challenge that was held during a lunch break. The challenge included several different types of throws to test accuracy, like sideline throws, 10-yard crossing patterns, 30-yard rollouts and end zone fades. There was also a distance contest where quarterbacks stood at the goal line and threw as far as they could.

“Brandon performed pretty well,” Barry Hickingbotham said. “I think he only had one interception all day, and he was pretty accurate with his throws during the challenge. And I thought Rowdy (Weathers) did a good job running the Gray team, too. I kind of let my quarterbacks call the plays because I couldn’t be everywhere at once. They both took charge in the huddle and did a good job of leading their groups. They communicated with their players.”

Harderrious Martin also quarterbacked the Gray team in its win over Mills in the morning session. He and Destry Sturgess will both begin to take more reps under center as two-a-days begin next week.

“HD (Martin) hasn’t played a lot of quarterback because he’s going to help us in so many other places,” Hickingbotham said. “He’s such an asset at receiver and defensive back. The kid’s got great skills. He’s going to be a multiple-position player for us. But we’re going to get him and Destry Sturgess a lot more work at quarterback because we need to keep developing the younger guys.”

Hickingbotham also bragged on seniors Avery Wells and Stevie Eskridge for their play on offense.

“Those two had a great tournament,” Hickingbotham said. “They’re important guys for us in that they’re good athletes, and they work hard to do it right. That’s one of the main things we’re looking for from the kids in this program.”

Hickingbotham couldn’t spend the entire time coaching each game. Many times both JHS teams were playing simultaneously, and as the organizer of the event, other responsibilities occasionally called him away from the playing field. But he kept one eye on the action at all times.

“Here’s the main thing I’m happy about,” Hickingbotham said, “I may get called away and won’t be able to coach every play, but I’m still going to watch and see how you’re handling yourself. It was hot. We had some issues with depth because we split teams and had some that had to leave early for work. I wanted to see if you were going to be selfish, or if you were going to say, hey, I need a break, and let someone else in the game.

“I’m going to watch to see if you go all out on your routes. And I think I saw us get better from a maturity standpoint. I saw guys acting like teammates and not like individuals. So that was one of the highlights for me. The unselfishness we’re trying to develop looks like it’s taking hold and that’s good to see.”

The clear standout on defense was Kris Johnson. He finished the day with four interceptions, including one against Central that led to the third-place finish.

“Without a doubt, KJ was a big performer and a pleasant surprise for us,” Hickingbotham said. “I thought Damon Smith played well at the corner. He’s a senior who’s hopefully going to be a first-year starter for us. But Kris just went above and beyond. He became a ball hog back there. That last one, he caught it at its highest point. He just went up and got it and it basically won us the game. It sent it to overtime where we won it from there.”

The tournament also featured a wide receiver challenge that included three events. There was a 5-10-5-yard change of direction drill that was timed. An obstacle course and an egg toss to test the softest hands. Devin Dollar of Atkins won the WR challenge.

Jacksonville leaves for its second annual team retreat at Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge on Wednesday, and will begin official preseason practices on Monday.