Tuesday, May 03, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> JHS Titans get spring practices underway

Leader sports editor

The first day of spring football practice at Jacksonville High School coincided with the announcement that the school’s new mascot would be the Titans. It was also announced that the new school colors would keep the old Jacksonville red and white, and add trims of black and gold. The name change goes into effect immediately. Uniform changes depicting a new mascot and/or logo will be done incrementally.

Jacksonville football coach Barry Hickingbotham, a former Red Devil player, had mixed emotions, but was mostly positive about the change.

“I’m just glad it’s over and there’s something now that people can get behind and unify,” said Hickingbotham. “Kept the same base colors and added a little bit of the gold. Some people wanted change, some didn’t. Somaybe it has enough to give everybody something to cheer for. I hate to lose the history, but it’s one of those give and take deals. Now everybody has a common starting point, so hopefully everybody can get motivated and support. It’s been a long time coming for our community to get our school and that’s what we should all rally together for.”

Hickingbotham’s focus Monday was primarily on getting spring practice underway, and it was all fundamentals for the very young team. Backs worked almost exclusively on tackling drills while linemen worked on blocking.

There were 46 players dressed out for the first day of full-pad practice since fall, and only 12 seniors. Coaches expect that total number to include a little more than 50 players and 13 seniors, which is very few total numbers and seniors for a 6A team.

“We’re going to be really young,” Hickingbotham said. “We only have 13 seniors and not many with much playing experience. The good thing about it is, the kids are eager. They get out there with some energy and want to learn what we’re trying to do. The negative is, there’s going to be a lot of mistakes, just from growing pains.”

Blockers were learning how to fire off the line of scrimmage with pads low, indicating a change in offensive scheme from last year’s spread attack. Assistant coach Jim Stanley was working with the linemen. He ran the Double-Wing offense for most of his 18 years as a head coach at Gosnell and Vilonia.

“We needed to really work hard on establishing the running game because it’s going to be tough on us lining up against teams like Pine Bluff,” Hickingbotham said. “We need to run the ball better than we did last year, so we’re going to work on things that will help us establish that before we throw it. I think it will be good for us, as a young team, to slow the game down a little, not hurry as much as last year.

“We’re just doing a lot of teaching right now, and we don’t have anywhere near the kind of depth you’d like to have in 6A football.”

Final numbers won’t be known until classes begin next school year, but the enrollment numbers attributed to the new JNP High School by the Arkansas High School Activities Association far exceed the actual count. The AHSAA simply added Jacksonville’s total 2014 enrollment to NPHS’s total 2014 enrollment, not taking into account that more than half of North Pulaski High School’s student population reside outside of the current JNPSD lines.