There was a time when the start of fall football practice meant two-a-days — grueling, intense work as well as lots of learning.
Fall football practice officially started on Monday for the Bryant Hornets but it’s not what it used to be.
“We have so much practice time in the spring then you carry over into the team camps and 7-on-7 during summer,” explained Hornets head coach Paul Calley. “Used to, you came in and you had to have two-a-days because it took that long to get your offense and defense put in because you didn’t do anything else.
“Now, we’re year-round,” he acknowledged. “We never stop (except for the summer dead period around the All-Star week). Offensively and defensively, we’re doing the same things we were doing at the end of last year. So there’s not a big learning curve there. It’s repetition, which is good. That’s something we want.”
So what has Calley and his staff focused on over the first two days?
“We’ve gone back through our base offense, our base defense and re-installed everything and re-taught everything,” he answered. “We’ve gotten a lot of reps. We’ve run 40 plays with two different groups offensively. We’re getting a lot of formations, a lot of set recognition and alignment with the defense; just trying to make sure we’ve got everybody fit in the right spot.
“We started working on our special teams,” the coach continued. “Special teams have always been an important part for us. We make sure we touch on one of those each day. We’re looking at our snappers, catchers, holders. Last year, we were mid-season and we had some injuries. We were still struggling to find people. We’ve got a jump on that. We think we’re in pretty good shape there.”
The team was restricted to helmets and shorts for the first two days. Over the next three, they’ll add shoulder pads. Full-pad workouts will begin Monday, Aug. 10. Practices will be in the morning this week, then switch to afternoons with the staff required to attend the District-wide professional development sessions through Thursday, Aug. 13. Forecasts for next week are for triple-digit temperatures.
“We’ve had two really good days of practice,” Calley said. “We’ve had no reason to feel sorry for ourselves because we started at 7 when it was cool. We finished by 9:30 before it starts to heat up. Of course, we’re just wearing headgear and not banging a whole lot. Everybody seems to be a little more upbeat, a little more fresh. We put the pads on tomorrow so it’ll be a little bit different story.
“We’ll work a little bit more one-on-one with the linemen, and receivers and d-backs — just kind of ease our way into it,” the coach said regarding the rest of the week.
The coaches will try to get in as many reps as possible in advance of school starting on Monday, Aug. 17. Calley talked about the importance of repetitions, saying, “Just so it’s a reaction rather than thinking. You don’t want somebody to have to think every time you come to the line of scrimmage, like ‘Oh my gosh, which one do I block?’
“Of course, sometimes even the repetition doesn’t help,” he allowed. “Against Bentonville (in week 12), in the playoffs, the play that we run the most, had the most success with all season running the football, we didn’t execute correctly. We’d been doing it all night but for some reason, at that moment, we didn’t and it cost us.
“You want it to be second nature,” he emphasized. “It needs to be a reaction.”
Getting all the reps in that are needed by the players will be a challenge this year with the return to the seven-period day at the high school.
“It’s going to be difficult because we’re starting practice an hour later each day this year,” Calley explained. “We’re going to lose fundamental time, a lot of time that we spent where we could pay attention to detail. We’re not going to get that anymore. It’s going to be interesting to see how that affects us.”
Asked about the health of the players, the coach said, “We’ve got a couple of guys. Marvin Moody’s got a pulled groin. We’ve also got a couple of guys that are limping a little bit. Trey Ashmore’s got a pulled quad. Other than that, we’re full speed. Kameron Guillory’s back from ACL surgery. Devon Howard is back from meniscus surgery. Cole Fritschen is back from the staff infection that he had last year. And Jaelyn Jones is back from an ACL.
“A huge key for us is keeping those guys healthy and keeping our seniors out,” he added. “A lot of times, seniors, if they’re not starting, are disappointed. They think they’re not playing a very important role. But they all are. I tried to remind them today, ‘You’re only one play away. You never know when you’re going to get your chance and you’ve got to be ready.’ Hopefully, we keep all those guys out.”
The Hornets are working towards their pre-season scrimmage with Pulaski Academy on Tuesday, Aug. 25 at Bryant Stadium. The season opener is Sept. 4 with the annual Salt Bowl showdown with Benton at War Memorial Stadium.