Leader Blues

Monday, August 20, 2007

SPORTS >>Energy still high at JHS

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

Like most other teams, the Jacksonville Red Devils trimmed their preseason regimen down to one practice per day this week. The change was mostly due to teachers getting ready for the school year that begins Monday. Jacksonville coach Mark Whatley says the two-a-day grind that kicked off in late July had not worn down the players like it has in years past.

“They fought through all that pretty good,” Whatley said. The effort has been there all summer. I can’t complain about that. We’re going to have to do better with technique than we are right now, but I’ve never had any problems with the effort these guys have given.”

Jacksonville is faced with several players stepping into positions that had been held by multiple-year starters. The process of learning those positions is still underway for the Red Devils, but it’s a process that is showing progress.

“We’re going to have to be a very good technique football team,” Whatley said.

They stated that this year’s team may not have quite the talent level of last year’s, but that’s not the main reason for stressing technique this week.

The main thing is the league you play in,” Whatley said. “You’ve got to trust your technique first and then play football. That’s football 101 right there. You can’t neglect that and expect to be successful.”

The Red Devils clearly exhibited the effort Whatley praised during kick off and kick-off return skeleton drills. Players went full speed up and down the field in those drills, led by lead returner Stanley Appleby.

“Stanley is a unique athlete in that he goes full speed every play,” Whatley said. “We can be running a drill with him and wideout where he’ll know he’s not getting the ball, and he’s going all out. If you had 11 or 12 of like him, you’d have the answer to a lot of problems.”

Whatley and the Red Devil coaching staff are still looking for more interior players to show themselves worthy of a starting spot. The head Devil has stated since two-a-days began that he has enough linemen to have a great unit on one side of the ball or the other, but needs depth to give those players a rest.

Not as many have stepped up yet as he had hoped, but he’s not resigned yet to playing several linemen both ways.

“We still have time,” Whatley said. “The good thing is, and the main reason we haven’t settled on playing a bunch both ways, is that the kids have not settled for being second team. They’re still out there busting their butts trying to earn that playing time, and trying to earn that label as starter. They just haven’t accepted second team yet and that’s a great thing to see.”

Jacksonville has not yet settled on a place kicker. The lack of someone to kick extra points has been a problem for Jacksonville for a couple of years. Several players were given opportunities to win the job this week, but no one has yet been given the duties.

“The biggest thing about kicking extra points is that it has to be important to you,” Whatley said. “I have a pretty good idea of who it’s going to come down to, but we haven’t made the final decision yet.”

Jacksonville’s annual Red-White game is tonight. The Booster Club cookout begins at 5:30. The freshmen team will take the field at 7 p.m. with the varsity following at 8 p.m.