On a Thursday evening at Charles E. Jordan High School’s practice football field in Durham, what may have seemed like an anomaly five years ago has turned into the norm.
In top-half pads and helmets, Jordan’s full football team spilled onto the field, ready for another of its daily summer evening workouts. Before long, quarterbacks were throwing to receivers who were cutting through cones, and running backs were taking handoffs out of the shotgun.
Fresh off a Tri-6 championship, head coach Anthony Barbour has come to expect full attendance at these summer workouts — and his players do, too. But it wasn’t always this way.
Years ago, these summer sessions weren’t as much of a priority for Jordan’s players as they are now. When Barbour took up the program’s mantle four years ago, the Falcons hadn’t posted a winning record in five years. In fact, before earning a share of a conference title last year, Jordan hadn’t won one in 10 years.
But expectations have changed.
“When I first got here, we only would have 20 or 15 guys,” Barbour said. “So far this summer, most of our core guys have been coming out, ready to work. I think us winning the conference championship had a lot to do with that, and we’re going to try to take that momentum and keep it going.
“I think kids want to be a part of something … It’s tough getting kids out in the middle of the summer, in July and June, but that’s football. If they want to play, they got to get out here.”
Despite surprising success last year — overcoming a 1-5 start and earning a bid in the 4A state playoffs — Jordan expects to be better in 2019. Senior running back Andrew Hayes said the outright title that eluded his team last year has helped motivate his team this summer.
“It doesn’t feel complete,” Hayes said.
Last season, Hayes, who was an all-conference selection and who led Jordan in receiving and rushing, notched 14 touchdowns and over 1,800 all-purpose yards, per his hudl.com profile. This year, he’ll have a lot of experience on the offensive line in front of him, including senior Dylan Joshua, senior Gregory “Billy Bob” Rigsbee and junior Joshua Donald. And he’ll be surrounded by receivers who can make plays, as well, including 6-foot-4 wide receiver Joaquin Davis and 6-foot-5 wide receiver James Jennette.
That said, Hayes won’t have quarterback Ben Miller behind center anymore. Miller, after starting for Jordan all of last season and graduating last spring, is now in the college baseball program at Penn.
“I feel like the offense, as long as we trust the system, can be good because I feel like pretty much everyone is returning, except for the quarterback and a couple slot (receivers),” Hayes said. “As long as we stick to the system, we’ll be OK.”
Barbour, who was a standout tailback at N.C. State before beginning his career as a high school coach, runs a spread offense of sorts, where the quarterback is often asked to operate out of the shotgun. Last season, the Falcons averaged 28.4 points per game overall — 40.4 points in their wins.
This season, with Miller’s departure, two quarterbacks are vying for the starting spot. Until a lead signal-caller is announced, Donald said that other veterans like himself will have to step up and lead — a job that requires knowing how to motivate a lot of players with different personalities.
“In the beginning (last season), we were just trying to get together as a team, and get on the same page,” Donald said. “And then once we got on the same page, we started getting on a roll. We started getting better chemistry as a team, knowing each other’s personalities.”
Defensively, returning tackle Joshua said the most important improvement his unit can make is “getting to the ball.”
“If we all do our assignments and rally to the ball, we can make big plays,” Joshua said. “I know that we can. That means causing turnovers, causing more fumbles, making fumble recoveries, getting picks — definitely a lot more picks because we dropped a lot (last year). We want to make sure that we maximize our full defensive potential.”
Jordan opens its season against Person High on Friday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m.
But for these players, who were one win away from an outright conference title last year — and for this program, which just years ago couldn’t fill a field come summer workouts before a season — it’s hard not to think about what Jordan might accomplish come the end of this upcoming season.
“Hopefully we can do it (again) with this year coming up,” Rigsbee said. “We just want the games to count at the end of the year.”