At JSU, rain and lightning shortened the day to two games for Cleburne County, one of only three participating schools not 5A or 6A. Tigers’ head football coach Michael Shortt said he chooses to go to Jacksonville for an opportunity to work against players from bigger programs.
“You get to see some very athletic people. … Your quarterback, the first thing he notices is, ‘Boy, they’re a lot faster than what we used to see, a lot faster than what you see in practices.’ Those are leaning experiences that you can’t get at practice, that you need to have in the summer,” Shortt said. “That way, the first couple of ball games aren’t such a challenge for you. That was important for us.”
At Piedmont, Cleburne County finished second in its pool to tournament host Piedmont. The ‘B’ team also went to Piedmont for a ‘B’ team competition that produced a lot of repetitions for the younger players. Shortt said perhaps half a dozen ninth-graders and sophomores who have a chance to play this season and contribute had an opportunity to play in both the varsity and ‘B’ games.
Shortt said he and his assistants tried to play a lot of different combinations, particularly in the secondary where all but one of last year’s starters returns, as they try to develop depth. Sometimes the younger players made costly mistakes but the opportunity to play should pay dividends in the future.
“If we can develop that depth in our secondary then some of those guys don’t have to play both ways as much because a lot of those guys in our secondary flip over on offense and play receiver,” Shortt said. “If I can find a guy that can play a little receiver or that can go play some secondary then that gives an opportunity for those starters to get a break every game.”
He also noted, “These 7-on-7 camps don’t always equate to winning championships, especially if you like to run the football, but it does allow you, especially defensively, to work on things that you want to get better at.”
Competing at home against Albertville or going to Albertville, instead of attending a larger linemen camp, has proven to give the Tigers more opportunities to improve.
“Our kids get a thousand reps and the do competitions. … It’s been good for us,” said Shortt.
Pre-season practice begins Monday with no pads allowed for the first three days.
“Probably 75 percent of practice will be on our kicking game for three straight days,” Shortt said.
Although the first three days won’t see any contact, they will be important.
“We’ve got some young kids who can run pretty good and we’re going to experiment with some of them on some of our kicking game and see if they can handle that. If they can handle that, maybe as the season goes along they can work their way into some playing time. That would be very valuable as the season goes along because you never know about injuries. They’ve got to be ready,” Shortt said. “The first couple of weeks of practice, if they can get out there and handle themselves in the kickoff and kickoff return and things like that, they may can handle themselves 10 to 15 snaps during a ball game.”