The wait is over.
With the 2017 high school football season set to begin in two weeks on Aug. 18, Robeson County’s six teams hit the practice field on Monday for their first official practice of the year.
Under blue skies and temperatures in the 60s, each team had an agenda going into Day One. Here’s a look at what coaches had to say about their teams.
The lessons from summer workouts were repeated on the Golden Tornadoes’ first day of practice, but the practice had more of a fall practice feel.
“It looked very good, much like the typical first day of practice where you reiterate what was taught this summer,” coach Kevin Inman said. “We were getting into the flow of what an in-season practice is like, and back into the norm.”
With a new coaching staff this year, Inman noticed the team taking the lead for him in his first preseason practice as a head coach.
“The ones (first string) showed their leadership to take the lead up front,” Inman said. “Now’s the time to establish your spot on the depth chart.”
With the first practice out of the way, Inman now wants to see his team continue to press forward with their energy output in practice.
“We preached to our guys to raise the bar everyday,” Inman said. “We told them that today is gone and tomorrow is a new challenge.”
Mike Setzer and the Pirates opened the season with a full, in-depth practice, focusing on efficiency and timeliness
“Our focus (on Monday) was on how to practice, getting a different pace,” Setzer said. “We worked on moving from Point A to Point B.”
While Setzer placed an emphasis on how the Pirates went about practice, the team still held an organized, thorough session that involved individual drills, as well as team work.
“It looked like our summer was productive. It’s a testament to my staff,” Setzer said. “The kids were excited and ready to go. With the experience on defense returning, those guys were chomping at the bit to get out there. I was very excited to see them move around. I’m looking forward to seeing the older, veteran guys coach the younger guys up.”
With numbers “a little down” on the field, Setzer and his staff are looking for a variety of players to play in multiple spots ahead of the season.
“It’s not so much about the stars, but more the role players,” he said. “We talked to them about coming in and finding your niche. It’s about having a kid come in, earning his place and learning where to play.”
The Rams eased into their first practice with some conditioning and a focus on the “little details.”
“That was the purpose,” said Purnell Swett coach Jon Sherman. “Make sure we’re in the right spot, knowing what we’re doing and focusing on the details.
“I’ve been with a bunch of coaches where it’s a full-go, full-scale practice and with others it’s been, run a mile, and make sure you’re here with your helmet on. I wanted to make sure all of the paperwork was good and everyone was here. That’s accomplished. We also wanted to get through some conditioning tests and work on some fundamental stuff.”
The Rams, with the help of assistant coach Donald Schietzelt, also participated in “The Box” drill, which is conducted to help the team’s togetherness.
“It’s a little detail-oriented,” Sherman said. “Part of our problem last year was we weren’t detail-oriented. We didn’t focus on the little things. I forced myself to work on those little details (on Monday). Hopefully, it will pay off (Tuesday) with our full-scale practice.”
The conditions, the numbers and the attitude of the Red Devils were perfect in the eyes of first-year coach Lawrence Ches as they opened practice.
“I feel like the tempo was good and we had perfect weather,” he said of the more than 50 players at practice on day one. “To have that many show at a small school like this is a big deal.”
With a young crop of players, the first day of practice consisted of mostly mental training and looking to continue to get into game shape.
“Today was a teach day. That and conditioning were our main focuses,” Ches said. “The kids know a lot of the stuff already so it’s not like we are teaching any new procedure.”
Despite the abundance of youth for Red Springs, there are many returning leaders from last year and it showed through some of the drills in the first practice.
“I like the commitment level these guys are showing,” Ches said. “The leadership was amazing and it really showed today when we did conditioning twice.”
Clay Jernigan, veteran head coach of the Mustangs, was at ease Monday as he bounced from position group to position group.
The addition of new coaches gave Jernigan the opportunity to “focus on a little bit of everything” as practice began with individual work.
“Everybody was on the same page,” Jernigan said. “My coaching situation was outstanding. It takes a lot off of me because I know what’s getting done. (On Monday), I was able to watch everything and I thought it went good.”
While the number of coaches hasn’t increased for the Mustangs, Jernigan said “knowledge-wise,” he feels the team is better equipped ahead of this season.
“It’s like we have extra coaches,” he said. “I’m holding them a little more accountable and letting them coach a little more. One of the things I stressed when they came in was coaching Monday through Thursday and enjoying Friday night — ready to make adjustments.”
Players worked with their individual position groups for a majority of Monday’s practice.
“You have to learn to crawl before you walk,” Jernigan said. “We worked on the first step.”
Coach Ernest King has seen the difference a year, and a successful one at that, has made on his program numbers wise when the team started its practice on Monday afternoon.
“We didn’t have these numbers last year,” he said. “I remember the first day we had probably 22 kids, and now we are at 50. We are establishing a program.”
Entering his second season, the Bulldogs are coming off a state playoff appearance in a season where a share of the Three Rivers Conference title slipped away. The carryover has also brought rising freshmen to the summer workouts, and in turn a good showing at preseason camp.
“They are coming out here and learning early and participating,” King said. “We are looking at the leadership to turn around and show the younger kids the St. Pauls way.”
In an hour-plus practice session that was all conditioning, the continued message of getting the players’ bodies in shape was there, but the will of the players to fight through adversity shined through.
“We know it’s going to be tough on the kids, especially the ones that just showed up. A lot of times the kids quit when things get hard, but we didn’t have that today,” King said. “That’s what you want to look for in a program.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182.