Robeson County’s six high school football teams participated in their second fall practices on Tuesday.
As the first week of practice continues, coaches will continue to provide team updates and spotlight players who are making an impact as the 2017 season draws closer.
After the high energy from the first day of practice, Fairmont coach Kevin Inman knew there would be a lot of tired bodies on the practice field for the second session, but his team powered through.
“Having a high tempo (on day two) is always a challenge for any coach, but our guys accepted the challenge and rose to it,” he said.
Being former quarterback Julius Caulder’s backup two years ago, Nalijha Pittman has returned to the gridiron and has turned heads at his new positions on the field in the trenches through the first two practices.
“He’s a big surprise, especially considering he hasn’t played for a couple years,” Inman said. “Even with the new terminology and a new position, he’s really done well.”
Leadership wise, veterans Sidney McKiethan and Malik Arnette have provided a lift on both sides of the ball with their play and their work ethic to shine the way for the young players.
“He’s (McKeithan) always a leader and he’s a lead by example type guy,” Inman said. “Those guys are grinders and you can tell them to run to the wall and they will do it.”
Pirates coach Mike Setzer and his staff emphasized the importance of building depth throughout the team’s second fall practice.
“I liked the energy (on Tuesday),” Setzer said. “The one thing I don’t like, we’re down (in numbers) with our jayvee team but we know we’ll get that up once school starts.”
Setzer pointed to a few guys on each side of the ball as the top performers on Tuesday.
“(Junior receiver and cornerback) Tyrese Gurley stood out to me,” Setzer said. “He made some big catches, was able to explode and took the coaching very well. I was impressed with him.”
Junior defensive back Drequan Addison and senior linebacker Raheem Locklear also made an impression on Setzer during the team portion of practice.
“Raheem Locklear made some good plays and I saw Drequan picking up on the safety position in a backup role. But seeing these guys pick up stuff is exciting. Those guys are buying in.”
After easing into the fall practice season with a relatively light day on Monday, the Rams kicked it up a notch going into their second day with a full-scale practice.
Coach Jon Sherman was pleased with the effort across the roster, as well as the sharpness and carry over from the team’s work during the summer sessions.
“The varsity offense looked pretty good, our jayvee defense looked decent and our varsity defense looked pretty good. Overall, I’m pretty about it,” Sherman said. “The energy was high.”
Sherman said the receiving corps “set the tone” for the team offensively throughout the practice, getting in the right spots based on formations in the team’s spread attack.
“(Senior wide receiver) Chandler Brayboy was standing out for us running routes and catching balls,” Sherman said. “The quarterback (Luke Oxendine) was putting the ball in the right spots and as far as running back, Al’Drique Thompson was doing a good job for us.”
He also acknowledged the effort of an offensive line that is retooling after losing several key pieces from last season.
“They were working hard and learning,” he said.
As for the defensive side of the ball, Sherman pointed to the secondary as the standouts from Tuesday’s morning session.
“Nate Brooks and Blake Lowry were doing a good job for us back there.”
The tempo that coach Lawrence Ches saw in the first practice did not see a let down at the second practice, much because of the leadership that the leaders of the team showed.
Senior cornerback Nichorie West took initiative to challenge the team’s energy between drills on Tuesday.
“Nichorie jumped right into the huddle and said that if he sees anyone walking between drills, they will have to talk with him after practice,” Ches said. “The tempo today was impressive.
Along with West, Ches also pointed out that Jerome Bass and Lee McLean were two others whose leadership stood above the rest of the crowd, but said it was a team effort overall.
“The athletes have shown up and are showing out and I’m impressed with the overall group effort,” Ches said. “The seniors are hungry, and they are making a difference even though there’s not a lot of them out here.
After raving about his coaches and the effort of his players following the opening fall practice of the season, Mustangs coach Clay Jernigan saw continued improvement on Tuesday — in effort and the number of players.
“We had a little more (players come) out today and a real good practice with getting a lot of things in,” he said. “The boys out here worked hard. That’s what we like. We’re like poker players, you have to play with the hand your dealt.”
Jernigan was happy with the team as a whole, pointing to each position group and the improvements from the first to second day.
He was particularly pleased with the offensive and defensive lines.
“Eric Lewis stood out, Marqise Murphy did a good job. Those linemen were working hard,” said Jernigan. “I thought we got better in the backfield with the younger guys and (quarterback) Tyler Locklear is picking up the offense.”
Despite numbers being down, Jernigan is pleased to see his staff and players putting in the work to prepare for the season.
“The coaches are getting it done, and the kids are catching on quick,” he said. “I can’t control the numbers. We’ll just coach as hard as we can.”
The continued improvement from last season was evident as the Bulldogs hit the field and went through individual and group workouts in their second practice on Tuesday. The energy level and attitude was pleasing to coach Ernest King.
King also noted that three players on the offensive side of the ball let their work do their talking for them over the first two days.
After an offseason where he worked to better himself with former teammate Elijah White, offensive lineman Marquez Coleman voice and work ethic has improved to where he now leads the offensive line through drills.
“He’s out there encouraging the guys more and he’s working hard to lead by example,” King said. “He has taken control of the offensive line and that’s what a center does. He played basketball last year and that has helped with his footwork.”
Quarterback Noah Wheeler, having to be a leader based on his position, took control during the conditioning and team drills the first two days.
“His leadership is really important for us as a team and he also executes well at what he does,” King said of Wheeler.
Dakota Oxendine has taken on the role of teacher for his younger teammates, and his athleticism has shined through practice.
“He’s always stood out because of his quickness,” King said. “He’s always teaching the younger guys how to run routes and where they need to be and that’s important to help bring the young receivers along.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.