Several new faces take to the field at Blue Eagles spring football practice
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Over the course of their two weeks of spring practice, W.S. Neal Blue Eagles football coach Shane Smothers is trying to accomplish several items.
One of the items at the top of the list is just learning the names of several new players.
"We've got about 60 to 65 players participating in spring practice. Almost half of them are new to the program. We've got 13 high school kids who did not play last season out and 15 eighth graders taking part in our drills. That's a lot of new faces to try to learn in a short time," Smothers said.
Smothers said he is approaching those new players in different phases.
"During the first week we gave those players an opportunity to pick a position. We allowed them to stay in that spot the entire first week unless it was just clearly obvious they couldn't play that spot and then we moved them to another place," Smothers said. "After the first week, we'll make some position adjustments."
In addition to finding a possible position for incoming freshmen, Smothers hopes to accomplish other things with that age group.
"One of the biggest things we want to do is just get those kids acclimated to the environment and being around the older players. During the first week those kids tended to stay together in their own separate corner, but we'll try mixing most of those players together with our current freshmen more and more as time goes along," Smothers said.
W.S. Neal is having its spring practice later than several programs.
"This is actually the latest I've ever had spring practice since I've been coaching," Smothers said. "A lot of schools have it much earlier, like in late February before spring sports start. We had so many of the football players involved in basketball, we thought it would be best to give them a little bit of a break before they went into their spring sport. At this point in the school year, all our other sports are done now and there are no conflicts. By doing it now, the work we do should still be fresh in the minds of players when we go into our summer work shortly after school ends. On top of that, it's getting warmer now and the heat will be closer to what we experience when we start practice in August."
Smothers said so far he has not inserted many plays into his offensive workouts.
"Right now we've put in one running play and one pass protection play for our linemen. We've put in two passing plays for our skill people," Smothers said. "For now, we're pretty much just running our normal offense. We may add a little more to it before we finish up."
Smothers said his defensive players are following a similar format on defense.
"We've just been playing our normal base defense. The way you play defense is dictated by what your opponent does on offense and that changes every week during the season," Smothers said.
W.S. Neal's spring practice will finish May 15 with its Blue/Gold Game. That scrimmage will be held from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. It is open to the public, but there is a $1 admission charge.
"Everybody will get to play that evening. We will mix up our lineups. We won't have our number ones on offense going against the number ones on defense. Besides that, some of those players go both ways. We'll mix that up with some of our twos or maybe even some threes," Smothers said. "Conditions will be like a simulated game. We'll have officials
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there and they will be throwing flags. The scrimmage game is a good way to finish things up."
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W.S. Neal is in the process of filling the week 10 spot of its schedule with a non-region road date at Class 2A power Southern Choctaw. That game will be October 29.
Southern Choctaw finished 8-3 last season. The Indians got a number one seed out of Class 2A Region 1 last season, as both they and Washington County tied for the top spot with 6-1 records.
Southern Choctaw beat South Lamar 39-20 in the opening round of playoff competition, but lost to Houston Academy 20-0 in round two.
"We've sent them a contract and they've agreed to play so it's all but a done deal," Smothers said.
W.S. Neal earlier filled a non-region date in week five with defending Class 4A state champ Trinity Presbyterian.
Smothers said it is becoming more and more likely the Blue Eagles will be idle in week one.
"We've tried to hook up with several schools, but we just haven't been able to get a deal in place. We really want a fifth home game to balance out our schedule. Right now we've got four home dates and five road dates," Smothers said.
Actually that is unofficially six road dates. W.S. Neal will play its exhibition Kick-off Classic at Andalusia on Thursday, August 19.
"We would normally play that on a Friday, but Andalusia is starting its season with a Thursday game the next week and they wanted a full week off in order to get ready for that," Smothers said.