Photo by Kevin Nagle
As is the case in many other classes, the students in Advanced Gridiron at Bryant High School have taken pop quizzes at the end of each week this fall. A major test awaits them on Friday, Sept. 2, but tonight at Pulaski Academy, they get a tough practice exam.
Scrimmages against each other on Fridays are one thing; a scrimmage against another team is something else. The Hornets, in their first year under head coach Buck James, will test themselves against Pulaski Academy’s high-scoring Bruins tonight at 6 p.m.
The two teams will tangle for three quarters, with a halftime, and no live kick returns. A fourth quarter will include third-teamers.
“So we’re going to run them out there so we can get through the transition of going from offense to special teams and back to defense,” James related. “We’ll get to check our conditioning and their ability to come back after halftime.
“I think that’s probably something that a lot of teams, especially early in the year, aren’t ready for,” he mentioned. “It gives us a chance to have a halftime, talk about what we’ve done, see how well we adjust to what we’re seeing and what we’re doing, then come back out and play again.
“We plan on playing two deep in our scrimmage then go into three deep and see how each kid reacts,” the coach said.
“We have a lot of guys who have really kept getting better every day. That’s something we want to continue to do. I think game reps, there’s nothing like them. You get better with game reps. And our kids need a lot of game reps. They’re very inexperienced, a young football team, not a lot of starters returning, not a lot of guys that have been through the fire. This is a good warm-up for us before we start playing our regular-season.”
That begins on Sept. 2 with the annual Salt Bowl against the rival Benton Panthers at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.
Asked how he sees preseason scrimmages, James said, “My approach is not one of urgency to see how well we go out there and put points on the scoreboard. We’ve got a plan. We’re just going to run our base offense and base defense. We’re going to go in two different formations. We’ll get in trips and doubles and that’s it. We’re not going to show any other formations or anything — not that we’ve got a lot more anyway. But we’re going to try to run our base offense and our base defense.
“What I’m more interested in is how hard we play, how well we execute, and what type of discipline we have while we’re out there,” he added. “And don’t get caught up too much into the game. Stay in the process of what we’ve got to do. We’ve scrimmaged every Friday since we started two-a-days. I think they understand what we want.
“I think Coach (Kevin) Kelley’s philosophy — I think he’ll do what he can to score a lot of points,” James said of the Pulaski Academy coach. “And I think that’s what most people are doing. But our approach is to get a lot of different looks and a lot of different guys involved to see where we’re going to be at, because we’re still learning our kids. We’ve still got jobs that we’ve got people competing for. We want to play a lot of guys in those positions and get equal amount of reps so we can evaluate those guys and really try to get to the point where we’re ready to play on Sept. 2. I think that’s the key.
“Twenty-five years from now, nobody will care about the scrimmage game and even 10 weeks from now, nobody will care,” he mentioned. “So I take it for what it is. It’s a scrimmage game. It’s an organized practice against another team. And we want to compete. We want to play hard. And we want to be able to execute our offense and our defense.”
All of Bryant’s practices and scrimmages are recorded on video, tonight’s scrimmage included.
“You learn a lot,” James related. “You learn about a guy who’ll compete with the lights on and when there’s another guy in front of him that he doesn’t know or has any idea about. He ends up being maybe a little bit better.
“I think everybody competes well when they’re better than the person they’re playing,” he continued. “But when you get against somebody that’s better than you are or stronger than you are or competes harder than you do, I think it gives us a high-water mark on that kid.
“We find out a lot about a guy,” the coach said. “How well he’ll compete against the unknown. Some guys handle it very well and that’s what we want them to do. Some guys go out there and try to re-invent the wheel, you might say, from the standpoint of they over-compensate, they over-try, they go to a place that they don’t normally practice at.
“So we’re hoping that our intensity in practice will carry over to what we’re trying to do. I hope they will see that, ‘Hey, this is pretty good. This is pretty easy. I’m better than I thought I would be.’ I want them to have a positive experience out of it. But how well will we go out there and execute and play?”