BROOKLET — There’s still over a month two go before opening night and almost three more weeks before players can practice in full pads, but the Statesboro football team is already in high gear as they joined Southeast Bulloch for 7-on-7 passing drills Tuesday in Brooklet.
After falling just shy of making an appearance in the state championship game last fall, SHS coach Steve Pennington has seen motivation and determination throughout the ranks of his Blue Devil squad in the months since a last-second field goal ended their title hopes in the semifinals of the GHSA playoffs.
"This has been a terrific offseason for us," said Pennington. "We had a very spirited couple of weeks in pads this spring and we’ve continued to really get after it over the summer months."
With all eyes set on making another deep playoff run this season, the Devils have stayed focused on the ultimate goal of another state title, but Pennington has worked to make sure that his players don’t burn out in the months leading up to the 2011 season.
"It’s a little tricky getting everyone in the right mindset," said Pennington. "You need to work hard all year long, but to keep everyone fresh, we try to ease up at times.
"These boys are still just kids, so we try to let them have some fun and enjoy part of their summer break while still staying in shape. Now that we’ve gotten past the July 4 dead week, it’s time for us to start to come together and refocus on football."
The Devils may just now be kicking things into overdrive, but they didn’t seem to miss any beats on the practice field Tuesday.
Squaring off against SEB with no linemen and minimal contact, SHS senior quarterback Reid Pennington looked relaxed and poised as he consistently found open receivers and delivered pass after pass with accuracy.
Relying mostly on short, quick routes in last season’s aerial attack, the Devils worked in more vertical routes Tuesday and Pennington was on point, connecting on nine of his first 10 attempts including two long touchdown tosses.
Of course, Statesboro is known for — and will still lean primarily on — its punishing wishbone rushing attack. Junior running back Quan Daniels burst onto the scene last season and will be one of the biggest offensive threats in Region 2-AAAA this season, but the balance that Reid Pennington can bring with his passing only serves to make the Blue Devil attack that much more dangerous.
A big factor in Statesboro’s added versatility is the fact that so many starters are returning.
Eight players who are likely to start on offense this season either started or saw significant amounts of playing time in 2010.
Add to that fact that Reid Pennington will be the first multi-year starting quarterback for the Devils since 2008 and there is a solid framework already in place to build off of.
"That’s a big part of what we’re looking for in these summer drills," said Steve Pennington. "With so many experienced guys, we can trust that they have the fundamentals down and expand the possibilities of what we can do. At the same time, we can spend more time looking at newer, younger guys and building them up for depth."
Statesboro will continue workouts both in the weight room and in passing drills throughout July. The first date that the GHSA allows for full-contact practices is August 1.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.