For the Bulloch County schools, spring football practice is a new phenomenon or at least a revived one.
Because of a recent rule change within the GHSA football bylaws, teams can now hold spring practice and not have to sacrifice a fall scrimmage. For a majority of the schools around the southeast Georgia area, the old option of foregoing spring practice for the fall scrimmages was the popular choice.
But for Screven County High School, spring practice arrived right on schedule this week.
Head coach Ron Duncan — a self described “creature of habit” — has held a spring practice all six seasons he’s been the Gamecock’s boss. Not holding a spring session to him is out of the question, and when asked why he chose to hold spring prior to the rule change — it all came down to one thing: routine.
“Routine is something we’ve tried to establish with our kids because honestly I don’t know any other way to run a program,” Duncan said. “For the 12 years I’ve been a head coach I’ve tried to keep my regiment the same, from how I wake up to what I eat for lunch. I’ve done the same for my football program.”
From the time he was coaching former NFLer’s Daquan Bowers and Ricky Sapp at Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School in South Carolina all the way to his current job in Sylvania, Duncan has always run a spring practice — which in his experience has been even more of an advantage south of the Palmetto State border.
The SCHSL has very strict rules on contact and how long spring practices can go, whereas the GHSA doesn’t come down quite as hard on regulations during the two-week spring period. Duncan’s taken this to his advantage since he arrived to Screven County in 2012, and the results have shown out on the field — even though Duncan won’t admit spring practice is the sole difference in his program’s success.
“I’m not going to say it makes a huge difference, but it does give us more time to work with our younger guys who won’t get reps come fall,” Duncan said. “I’m always trying think two or three years ahead for our program, so knowing who’s coming up is always important in our evaluation.”
If we’re speaking in the short term, Duncan and his staff won’t have a whole lot of evaluating and replacing to do in 2017. Screven was 30 seconds away from advancing to the final four last fall, but Ole Miss signee Braylon Sanders’ 47-yard catch and run would put Callaway High School over the top to end the Gamecocks season in a sour fashion in the elite eight.
But the team that fell 35-34 on Nov. 25 was 11-2 and the region 4-2A champions. They return all-state fullback and nose tackle CJ Wright, 3-star wide receiver Tyquan Johnson and school-record breaking quarterback Armani Bunbury along with 13 other key starters to what was already a very talented team.
The only two games Screven lost were the aforementioned heartbreaker to Callaway and their season opener to Bluffton — where the Gamecocks blew a 15-point lead which culminated in a strip-sack of Bunbury, allowing the Wildcats to win that game in the final seconds as well.
Essentially one minute of game time defined Screven’s entire season, and Duncan attributes those two late game fizzles to one thing: depth.
“We have great players here, heck I don’t think I’ve had a team that good return this much talent,” Duncan said. “But late in those competitive games we were getting gassed out because we didn’t have the depth to rest our starters.”
Which comes back around to why spring practice is so important for Duncan and his team. Since depth was an issue last season, spring practice becomes ample time to help build up the underclassmen who could wind up giving guys like Kendrick Cox and Kim Hunter a break on defense.
Especially this week, since Wright, Johnson and Bunbury were busy Thursday and Friday at the 2A state track championships. New freshman and sophomores got to work in with the offense in the absence of the big three, but more importantly Duncan and his staff were able to evaluate some more important positions of need.
“I think this is the first team I’ve had that returns so much talent but has a lot of glaring needs as well,” Duncan said. “We lost some very important starters on the offensive line and we’re going to be looking for guys to fill those spots right now.”
Screven County fans can see the 2017 rendition of their team in action for the first time on May 19 when the Gamecocks host South Effingham at 7:00 p.m.