The sound of Statesboro High football coach Steve Pennington screaming instructions to his players in a long sleeve jacket in 91 degree weather can mean only one thing—football is back for the Blue Devils.
SHS is in mid-swing of spring practices to prepare for the upcoming 2015 campaign. The Blue Devils are trying to rebound from a rough 2014 season. The Devils struggled their way to a 2-8 record last fall – their worst mark ever in over a 10-game schedule - but seem ready to turn the corner and look towards the future.
“We’ve come a long way since the first Monday we were out here,” Pennington said after a humid practice Wednesday afternoon. “We’ve made great gains. From an organizational standpoint we’ve made progress.”
Statesboro finished last season 2-8 and started the year on a five-game losing streak. Even more painful, the Devils missed out on the state playoffs for the first time in 16 seasons.
Pennington said his staff and players are focused on moving forward from last season and are taking the right steps to progress in practice. Pennington emphasized this year’s key to success would be in practicing the fundamentals.
“When we’re hustling every play, regardless if we need to block, tackle or run, we’re getting close to where we need to be,” Pennington said. “One of the things we worked on this spring is learning how to practice. We’re trying to be as detailed as we can because everything matters.”
The Blue Devils’ coaching staff spent close to a week looking at a fresh crop of incoming players from Langston Chapel and William James Middle school. The team worked players on both offensive and defensive side of the ball to see where players fit best.
“After a week of evaluations we’ve got people broken down offensively and defensively. Now we can spend more time on the basics and fundamentals and teaching the knowledge aspect to everybody,” Pennington said.
SHS will be looking to revamp its squad after losing 14 seniors from last year’s team. The Devils’ biggest rebuilding job will be on the defensive side of the ball. Statesboro had to deal with the loss of All-Region talent Wesley Budgett in the secondary early last year. That loss was felt throughout the season and is now compounded by the departures of linebacker Rickey Lee and defensive lineman Brandon Maple, giving the Devils holes to fill at all levels of the unit.
The good news is that 14 departing seniors is a relatively low number. Plenty of underclassmen were thrown into the fire in starting roles last season. Now, the hope is that a year of practice and experience can produce better results.
“If you asked our players if there was enough leaders on this team (last year), the answer from almost everyone of them would be—no. We need to have some people step up,” Pennington said. “The makeup of our squad with these juniors and seniors to do great things is there.”
The Blue Devils will open the season against Burke County, a team SHS lost to 12-0 last season. For the second consecutive season, the teams will meet at Paulson Stadium as one of the two games to be contested at the fourth annual Erk Russell Classic.