As schools around Bulloch County prepare to wrap up another year, area football teams are getting a head start on the 2013 season to come in the fall.
Statesboro High concluded its two weeks of spring practice with a Blue-White scrimmage Friday night while the Portal Panthers ended their spring program last week. Southeast Bulloch began its spring drills on Monday and will continue until next week.
While all schools are looking to cover the same basic steps during spring – conditioning, rehashing the fundamentals, and welcoming rising freshmen – Statesboro, SEB and Portal all took different approaches.
For the Panthers, spring saw the welcome addition of more names on the roster. Always at a disadvantage as one of the smallest football playing schools in GHSA, Portal’s roster shriveled from the 30s into the 20s last season and injuries forced the Panthers to play some games last season with only a handful of backups.
This spring, Portal coach David NeSmith had nearly 40 in camp.
“It’s definitely nice to have a few more guys on the field,” NeSmith said. “Overall, it was a good spring. We got a little bigger and faster with our returning guys and the new guys have come along nicely. I think we’re a little ahead of where we were last year at this time.”
Down in Brooklet, the opening of spring camp marked the latest step in the long process of rebuilding a program that hit a low point a few years ago.
Pat Collins took over a winless Yellow Jackets squad in 2010 and has made steady improvements, coming within reach of the state playoffs last year despite SEB moving up to Class AAA.
“This will be the first year where all of our older guys will have been in a good weight program throughout their whole high school career,” Collins said. “I have to thank our assistant coaches Brandon Peterson and Jeremy Gantt for that. Our kids are motivated and have great participation numbers and our coaches have made us a little stronger.”
SEB has added some muscle and plenty of depth.
Over 80 players now make up a roster that wasn’t half of that size three years ago.
The Jackets have been banged up through their first week of practice, but nothing seems to be too serious. Collins is looking for three more strong days of practice next week to close things out.
“We still aren’t where we need to be, but we’re growing,” Collins said. “If we close out the spring strong and do well in summer workouts, this can be a good football team in the fall.”
Over at Statesboro, numbers are never an issue. With a solid group of returners and a steady stream of rising underclassmen, the Blue Devils broke up their spring schedule.
The first few days of camp featured only current freshmen and middle schoolers who will join the team in the fall.
“We like to give those eighth graders some time to get acclimated,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “There are plenty of talented guys that can help us, but you also want to kind of ease them into things.”
Allowing some of the older players some time to focus on spring sports and upcoming finals, the rising upperclassmen only participated in the last half of spring practice. Seven Blue Devils spent the first half of spring practice competing for SHS in the state baseball playoffs, but their commitment to the football team was evident.
Starting quarterback Colin Chance, running back Diquan Brunson and several others made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the Class AAAA tournament, but switched right into football mode once their baseball season ended.
“Those guys set a great example for the rest of the team,” Pennington said. “They had their season end and then rode all the way across the state and didn’t get home until two in the morning. The next day, all of them suited up and were ready to go.”
Only Southeast Bulloch will be in pads next week as the Jackets wrap up their spring schedule on Wednesday. All schools will hold weight room sessions throughout the summer and full pads practices will resume at the beginning of August.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.