08/03/07 — Teams ready to hit someone

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Teams ready to hit someone

By Rob Craig
Published in Sports on August 3, 2007 1:48 PM

Football players want to hit.

During the opening week of high school practice though, pounding each other is off limits. So, area coaches are doing what they can with young players who are stuck in T-shirts and shorts.

When the hitting does begin, North Duplin coach Hugh Martin will be watching his players closely to avoid injuries. With just 34 players at practice, depth and inexperience can be an issue.

"We don't want to get anyone banged up," said Martin. "We've got to get through (wearing pads) and get used to it. One injury here or there can definitely have a huge effect."

The inexperienced players are being brought along slowly by the coaches as they try to learn the Rebels' shotgun offense. Martin is using this first week to try and develop some depth to go with his more experienced players.

Heat and humidity is also a concern.

"We've increased the breaks over the last few days and we do certain drills without the helmets," said Martin. "We also allow them to get water whenever they want."

Veteran Spring Creek head coach Roy Whitfield is also aware of the heat and potential injuries so he has been holding early-evening practices at "The Swamp" to combat the conditions.

Whitfield and his staff are also driving home a very important point to the players.

"We tell them they're one play away from starting," Whitfield said. "We want two (players) at every position. That's our goal right now. We want the boys to learn a position on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball."

Whitfield hopes the young Gators pick up on what they're being taught. He's also doing his best to alleviate the learning curve by keeping everything very basic and working on just the fundamentals.

"It's been a good week so far," said Whitfield. "The players' attitude has been great. It's been a joy to be out there."

Depth is less of a problem at James Kenan where second-year coach Ken Avent Jr. was pleased with his 45-player turnout for the Tigers' varsity squad.

The large turnout was a positive especially with the Tigers trying to fill some big holes left by graduation, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.

"Our only real concern right now is on our lines," said Avent, who guided Kenan to the Class 1-AA (large-school) state final in 2006. "We can't afford many injuries. We lost some good seniors, but we feel like we have good players coming up to fill those shoes.

"At the skill positions we're looking good right now."

These first few days have been spent largely with conditioning with Avent doing what he can to get his team ready for game speed.

"We try to practice as fast as we can," he said. "We go hard the whole practice so it won't be a big shock when games start. It's a lot tougher in games."

Fundamentals is also a point of interest for Avent and his staff as they have been working with the players on their base offense.

"Everything is going good," said Avent. "Coming off our success from last season everyone is excited and ready to go."

At Princeton, coach Russell Williamson is sifting through 50-plus players for his varsity squad.

"The biggest thing is figuring out who we're going to have," said Williamson. "We've got a pretty good idea who's going to play for us. There are always guys though that can surprise us."

Williamson has already had his head turned by one particular player who seemed to be ticketed for junior varsity, but now has the inside track on a spot with the varsity squad.

Williamson's 2007 team will have its share of sophomores as their roster is littered with underclassmen and juniors.

That youth showed up immediately on Monday.

"(The first practice) went kind of slow because we have such a young team that I don't think they knew what to expect," said Williamson.

Those young kids showed they're fast learners as Williamson was impressed with how smooth practice went on Tuesday and Wednesday. The coaching staff is concentrating on skill work -- running basic plays and pass skeletons.

"We've thrown a lot at the players and they're picking it up pretty quick," said Williamson.

All coaches and players though are counting down the days until they can finally play football for real.

"We're kind of anxious for next Monday to get here," said Williamson. "It's football. The kids want to hit."