For the first time, the N.C. High School Athletic Association allowed football teams to practice in the spring as a full group. Players were able to don pads and helmets, although no body-to-body contact was allowed. The 10-day period replaced the skill development workouts teams were able to hold with up to 21 players throughout the spring in years past.
We polled area coaches on their experiences with the new format: the good, the not so good and what their teams got out of the experience.
How did the new format work?
Hunter Jenks, South Johnston: I liked the new format, my only suggestion would be to have a bigger time frame to get our 10 practices in.
John Poulnott, East Wake: The dates given to us did not take in to consideration end of year player/teacher obligations and test preparations. At East Wake, we have always given the last week of May off to players for exam prep but were forced to practice this spring on those dates due to how spring practices were implemented by the state. Because of these obligations and our program focus on education, we were short handed most workouts the second week.
Cedric Dargan, Knightdale: The new format had its positives and negatives. Positives – no minimum amount of players and you can practice for two and a half hours. The biggest negative was the start date May 18th. I talked to a lot of coaches and none of them were able to get the 10 days in because of their exam schedule. And, because the start date is so close to the end of the school year and exams, some of my players were constantly late to practice or missed it altogether because they had to attend after-school tutoring sessions. Some kids also missed time because they went on an extended vacation during the Memorial Day weekend. I think the best solution would be to have the start date so that the 10th day is the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend. This way, the players can enjoy their vacation and have a week left of school before exams start.
Wes Hill, Smithfield-Selma: I enjoyed the new format. Having everyone able to practice and not just 21 was helpful for us. We were able to install our offense and defense, respectively.
Randy Pinkowski, Clayton: I for one like the new format. It was nice to have all the guys and coaches out there we were able to run things almost like a regular practice. I think it also makes the other sports coaches happy allowing them to finish their seasons before the kids became distracted by the start of football workouts.
Jimmy Williams, West Johnston: I think the new format was great. We need to tweak the timing of the practice schedule with the state but overall the 10 days were good for West and most everyone I spoke too.
Ashley Ennis, North Johnston: We were able to condition and lift weights up until the 10-day period. We used the 10 days to install base offense and defense and try to get better fundamentally at all positions.
Scott Riley, Cleveland: I thought it was great. With unlimited numbers it was helpful in getting new players out that hadn’t played in the past. We were also able to accomplish a lot more than in past springs. We have always encouraged our players to play other sports so we didn’t have most of them until late May anyway. Even if they didn’t play another sport we could not take out more than 21 players under the old rules which for us meant one position group a day. As a coach I had to be out there everyday for 10 weeks to get in what we did in 10 days now, as before over a 10 week period the players would still only have 10 sessions. In addition, by waiting until May to start, the players had time to start missing football and were excited to be out there. We have never had this level of enthusiasm for spring skill development. In addition, it allowed our players to get exposure to college coaches who were available to come around in the spring and watch our skill development sessions.
Michael Thibodeau, Southeast Raleigh: I enjoyed the actual days of practice once we hit spring, but with our modified calendar we only had eight days of practice. We had to wait until the end of the spring season and our finals began on May 20, so we didn’t get a full 10 days.
Travis Gaster, Princeton: The format was fine. I would like to see the ability to have body-to-body contact in order to teach proper tackling technique.
Did you feel like you were able to build on what you worked on from day-to-day more so with this format than in the old style off-season workouts?
Ennis: Probably as a whole we were. Having everybody out there for ten consecutive days versus doing 21 on defense one day and 21 on offense the next day from April through may probably ended up being about the same as far as team concepts. I still think specific skill development is hurt by this new format.
Williams: Yes, we were able to build on each day I believe much better so than the 21-day format.
Poulnott: We did see improvements throughout the two weeks but feel we are far behind where we have been at this point in the past.
Dargan: Being able to have every position group out there definitely allowed us to build on and progress from practice to practice. The old 21-man rule limited you to only one or two position groups outside each day to assure that your numbers stayed down.
Riley: Yes, it is hard to build continuity doing things once a week and without players to line up against. Having two weeks of skill development with unlimited numbers allowed us to install a lot on both offense and defense. Before we didn’t attempt to install our schemes because we could only have one position group at a time and many of the players would be off playing other sports. Our players are much prepared for the start of football then they were at this point last year.
Pinkowski: Returning more experienced players this year, we were able to build everyday on what was done the day before. The kids were very focused and excited to get back to work.
Thibodeau: Actually, I feel like it did build well during that period, but I saw more development from the younger kids specifically back when we were able to do skill development last year from March-May.
Jenks: Yes we had an install schedule for individual, group and team drills. We had our spring planned out and were able to stick to our install schedule.
Gaster: Building was easier since you had every player every day. The skill athletes suffered some with timing mores so than the rest of the team. When you try to squeeze everything in a constrained time block, there are a limited number of reps available. This puts a premium on quality reps for the whole O or D. There are times where quantity is needed as well.
What did you miss about the old format, compared to this format?
Thibodeau: I miss the development and more 1-on-1 type sessions we were able to have, namely with the younger players. The older players developed too, but I feel like skill development helped the inexperienced and younger players get more hands-on coaching from varsity coaches heading into the summer.
Gaster: Having a group of 21 gives a chance for more individualized instruction for all athletes. With a small coaching staff, the old format was easier to teach fundamentals and practice those position-specific skills.
Pinkowski: This worked much better than the old system and I can think of nothing from the old system that I miss. I may be different than most because we confined our skill workouts to the month of May in the past. By having the whole team out there it actually cut down on the amount of days it took to get the information installed.
Ennis: I liked being able to do both sides of the ball and basically practice under the new format. I think the skill development at specific skill positions is lost a little bit from the old especially if you need a new QB. But I think it will work once we all get used to it and adapt our off-season to it. A little more flexibility in the timing of it is needed as was proven with moving it up.
Poulnott: (Quarterback) and (receiver) development is key to our offense at East Wake and any other passing-oriented offense. The new format does not allow for teams to focus on these groups for an extended period to develop their needed skills.
Williams: I missed absolutely nothing about the old format.
Dargan: The biggest thing I miss about the old format is the start date. Being able to start skill development in late February/early March definitely has its benefits no matter how many players you’re allowed to have out there.
Hill: The old format did allow us to evaluate players more thorough, but to work offense and defense for ten straight days was useful in itself.
Jenks: One part that the old style was better is the extra practices allowed for more individual skills to be worked.
Riley: Nothing, I hope we never go back.
Was there a positional group or players who you thought stood out during the practices? Who/why?
Williams: Quarterback Andre Wilson stood out. He had a very good 10 days as did Connor Denning, Buck Williams, Andre Blevins, Noah Liles and Jake Strickland.
Poulnott: Jacob Ellington took his new position on our defense by the horns and really showed us that we have him in the right position to lead us to another great year.
Dargan: I was pleased with my rising seniors. They provided great leadership and practiced with good effort so I’m looking forward for them to continue to set the example for our underclassmen and rising ninth graders during our summer workouts and into the fall.
Riley: I was very impressed with all our players. Our defense is more athletic than it has been in past years and our offense has a lot of experience bring back 9 of 11 starters from last year. But, the best position group from this spring would have to be our Offensive line. All 5 starters return from last year and it showed this spring.
Ennis: I think as a whole we were further ahead then we were last year at every position. Of course with no contact your seven on seven and skill positions tend to stand out more the big boys hitting sleds and pads.
Thibodeau: For us it was our defensive line. We have a lot of returners from last year’s squad, and we are going to very deep on the DL.
Gaster: Adrian Whack is an extremely gifted and talented athlete. He is beginning to step up as a leader for his position. Combined with Chris Sauls, our defensive line has made it difficult for the offense to move the ball on the ground during spring practices.
Hill: We have a lot of new players this year and one group did not stand out more than another to us.
Pinkowski: I was pleased and saw progress with all of our groups.
Jenks: I was very happy with the entire team, all of the coaches felt like it was the best two weeks of practice that we have ever had. Our players were coachable, had great attitudes and worked hard.
What do you want to see your players do between now and the start of regular practices in August?
Hill: We all recognize we have a lot of work to do. That is the expectation we were able to establish with our kids that nothing can replace hard work and we look forward to a summer full of just that.
Poulnott: Stay hungry and focused, because we are one of the small schools on the block and will need guys to be in shape and ready to play week one on both sides of the ball this fall.
Dargan: I expect them to attend our summer workouts so we can start building team chemistry and camaraderie.
Jenks: I want for the commitment that we have had all off-season continue. It is important for everyone to be at every work out so the entire team can grow and teammates can hold teammates accountable.
Riley: Athletically, we want to continue to get strong in the weight room and continue the enthusiasm for football through the summer skill development periods.
Pinkowski: For the rest of the summer we will attend team camp in a couple weeks, we will play in one passing league tournament, and continue with our three day per week conditioning workouts. We workout Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings giving everyone a chance to have a four day weekend at the beach. I also encourage our players to attend some one-day college football camps if they can. At these camps they get themselves some recruiting exposure and learn from top level coaches.
Williams: Conditioning and fundamentals will be our big priority over the next two months heading into preseason.
Thibodeau: Continue to hit the weight room. I was very happy with their attendance throughout the off-season. We have a lot of positions to fill with graduating seniors, specifically on Defense, and we had quite a few younger players step in and assert themselves to get better.
Ennis: Come back for summer workouts focused and excited about football. I think the 10 days gave them a taste and most of our kids are ready for the grind.
Gaster: Lift weights, eat, sleep, and lift more weights.