Robeson County’s six high school football teams participated in their third fall practices on Wednesday.
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.
A former offensive lineman himself, Fairmont coach Kevin Inman knows the importance of having a strong force up front, and he said the Golden Tornadoes’ offensive line has worked hard through the first three practices and hopes it has a positive carryover to the other offensive units.
“They’re the boys that don’t get subbed out. These guys are coming out and setting the tone up front in practice,” he said. “That just sets the tone for every play. I know it is comforting as a running back that your linemen are down here working for you.”
Among those that are leading the offensive front is returning All-County player Nick Hunt, as well as Dylan Jacobs, Scott Hardin and Donovan Cummings. Cummings, a junior center, has accepted his role as “quarterback of the offensive line,” despite not being a senior.
“They’re going to make the calls to scan the front and it’s very important when he’s vocal and athletic,” Inman said. “That just opens up your offensive line play.
Pirates coach Mike Setzer said his team is “getting the itch to hit” so the primary focus on Wednesday was getting the players to maintain an edge without crossing the line.
“We had a little bit of a laid back day. We had to slow them down a little bit. We had to give them the hold-back-a-little speech,” Setzer said.
But the laid-back approach didn’t produce laziness. Setzer said he was impressed with the defense throughout practice.
“They were flying around today,” he said. “The linebackers kind of set the tone.”
Senior linebackers De’onnta McCallum, Devonta McKoy, Raheem Locklear and Breighlan Swindell were the standouts on Wednesday, along with senior lineman Javon Rogers.
“They showed out,” Setzer said. “They picked up the pace and it showed.”
As the first day in full pads approaches, Setzer is hopeful that energy will continue to spread throughout his roster.
“These next couple of days it gets interesting in how we motivate them. They have that itch to hit,” he said. “The temperature being down is the one thing we weren’t planning on so we’re trying to turn it up (in practice) a little more.”
Placing the focus on defense during the morning session, Purnell Swett coach Jon Sherman singled out the defensive backs as the most impressive position group on the third day of official practice.
“Going with the defense primarily (on Wednesday morning), we did some 1-on-1 drills today and the defensive backs won,” Sherman said. “As far as our last seven preriods of offense, we put in some power game and saw some good things from the receivers on that end. Overall, everyone was here that needed to be here, and I was happy.”
As for players that stood out within the defensive backs and wide receivers, Sherman pointed to the Brooks brothers on the defensive side and a pair of possible breakout receivers.
“The two brothers might be starting in the secondary this year,” he said. “And as far as receivers, Lakeydon Morrison and Chandler Brayboy looked really good.”
Sherman said he and his staff will learn more about their offensive linemen once the hitting starts on Saturday.
The energy continued to be present among the Red Devils on Wednesday, with head coach Lawrence Ches even getting in the mix on the offensive line to prove a point to his players.
Capping the morning session with some gasser runs, the first-year head coach is lookin for his team to not let up.
“We’re young and we’re breaking down at the end (of practice),” he said. “It’s just about finishing. We have to be at the same level of intelligence at the end that we are at the beginning.”
But Ches was impressed with the performance of the backline of his defense, pointing to the linebackers and defensive backs.
“The defense dictates everything for us. That’s our heartbeat. The linebackers, especially, have tremendous leadership.”
Ches also noted the importance of his new offensive line coach and the improvements he’s seen in that group.
“He’s a huge asset,” said Ches. “He’s in his fifth year at UNCP and he’s been tremendous for us.”
As for individual players, it was the usual suspects for the Red Devils with Nichorie West “jumping out every day,” Monte’ Wilkerson at wide receiver and Red Springs’ engine, Jerome Bass.
With the Mustangs still fighting low numbers through the first three days of practice, coach Clay Jernigan has kept his focus on the group that has came out consistently the first three days.
“I can’t worry about who ain’t here. I’ve got to worry about who’s here and getting them better,” Jernigan said.
Of that group working to get better, Jernigan notes that the linemen and the running backs have been two of the harder working groups through the first three days. That has come from the group banding together to push each other to work hard.
“This week they have really gotten together and got behind each other,” Jernigan said.
Through defensive group drills, it was hard to miss the voice of senior linebacker Jaylen Mitchell carrying over the practice field. His vocal leadership at practice goes back to what he had planned with Jernigan early on this summer.
“He told me this year that this was his last year and he was going to try and do something,” Jernigan said. “He wanted to be one of the guys that kept them going and he’s been doing it.”
Much like he expected, Bulldogs coach Ernest King has seen the strength of the team, its offense, show continued growth after the third day of practice.
“The offensive group in every phase has continued to get better and show that it is the strength of this team,” King said.
Among the offensive unit, the leadership and improvement of the offensive front is what has been the most impressive with players like Marquez Coleman and Ricky Chavis guiding the unit with their experience.
“They have gotten better at dealing with their assignments and have shown improvements everyday,” King said. “Ricky gives us good effort every time and tries hard to block and open up holes for the backs.”
King said the freshmen at quarterback and receiver also have shown growth the past three days as well.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182.