Off and Running: Excitement Surrounds First Football Practices
It may only be the first day of official practice, but expectations are running high at fields across Moore County.
Led by a solid core of ambitious seniors, 98 Pinecrest football players hit the field and smoothly went about their business at Saturday morning's practice.
"We are very senior oriented," running back Damien Decatur said after the two and a half hour workout in helmets, T-shirts and shorts. "I think the coaches like this because they can basically let the seniors take care of things. Our expectations for ourselves are as high as they can be."
In his third year as head coach, Chris Metzger began the morning with a familiar exhortation to his players, "It's a great day to be a Patriot."
The practice was organized to the nth degree. There was no down time for orientation.
"Everybody started the day - who is going to finish it,?" the coach shouted moments later. "Guys, we talked about zero tolerance for lack of performance the little things, the little things."
Metzger says seniors like Decatur and defensive lineman Manny Shepperd have embraced their leadership roles and are excited to be role models in the classroom and community.
"It's year three and they know the drill, and they know what's expected," the coach said. "The ones that have been around will not allow one of our kids to be not committed. I hate to use a line from a movie, but it's similar to "Remember the Titans". They want guys that are committed."
The Patriots will be looking to improve on a 7-5 2008 season that represented a break through year for the football program. The players will be allowed to began wearing pads next Saturday. A home scrimmage involving Marlboro County, Douglas Byrd and Jack Britt is only 11 days away (6 p.m., Aug. 12). The first regular season game is also at home against Enloe on August 21.
Shepperd is beginning to feel the adrenalin pump. But, there is no sense of urgency in terms of concerns about his team not being ready to go when the season starts.
We've been preparing for awhile," he said. "The guys have been committed since the beginning of the summer. The guys that went to App (Appalachian State for a team camp) had the plays intact and knew what we wanted to do. So as far as the scrimmage coming up, we're prepared.
We just have to tweak some things and fine tune it, and get situated."
As Metzger looked around the expanse of practice fields at the end of practice, about 50 youth players in full gear were going through their paces. The coach liked what he saw.
"I'm getting goose bumps," he said. "All these kids out here, playing ball."
The scenes were similar at North Moore and Union Pines high schools.
North Moore, the smallest of the three area public schools, had approximately 40 students out from practice this morning. Players stretched, participated in agility drills and also worked on technique and conditioning.
The Mustangs have more time to prepare for the season than the other two teams. North Moore plays its first game Aug. 28 at Princeton. The Mustangs will scrimmage Piedmont on Aug. 15.
At Union Pines, The Viking players got their first practice in with new head coach Ryan Riggan, who is a former assistant at Union Pines and Pinecrest.
The Vikes' new head coach admitted that Saturday was a date he had circled on his calendar for quite a while.
"To me, this is sort of like Christmas morning," said Riggan. "This is a very exciting day for our program and I am energized that we had such a large turnout. It is great and I am just excited about the season."
More than 60 players showed up Saturday, at Union Pines' practice facilities, to take part in the first day of the Vikes' new season.
"We are hoping to have 10 or 15 more come out," Riggan said, "but for right we are excited about what we got and are very glad to have them.
The Vikings started the practice with some calisthenics before then breaking down into groups so they could work on position specific drills. Then the team did a good amount of 7-on-7 scrimmaging.
For senior linebacker Dario Poulson, it was a day he had been striving towards.
"This means a lot to everybody in our program," said Poulson. "It is especially important for our seniors especially with the new coaching staff. We have taken them (the coaches) in like they were our parents. We just listen to them and do what they say because we understand that they are trying to make us better and I feel they are doing a really good job."
Paulson said there is a feeling of excitement surrounding this year's team.
"As a team we are doing much better than last year and everyone else out here feels the same. I have never worked this hard in my life trying to get ready for a football season. We have been working hard all summer, just doing our thing and today it feels great."
The Vikings will open their season Aug. 21 at Red Springs.
Student-athletes in the other fall sports, volleyball, girls' tennis, boys' soccer and cross country begin tryouts and practices Monday. Football teams must complete seven days of practice before players are allowed to put on full gear and have contact, so players were clad in cleats, helmets t-shirts and shorts.
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