Midnight first-pad practice signals different UC approach

Midnight first-pad practice signals different UC approach
If it’s late July and the heat index is regularly in triple-digits, it must mean the start of preseason high school football practices.
Teams across Tennessee were allowed to put on full gear for the first time on Monday, and the three Obion County entries were among those to do so amid sweltering conditions after having had some sort of organized conditioning workouts without pads over the last two weeks.
Battling the oppressive elements has become the norm for prep teams from Memphis to Bristol with the popularity of Week 0 dates that allow clubs to open their respective seasons the last full week of August.
The early beginning to the season defies most logic, especially considering that if a team does not make the playoffs, it will not play a game in the month of November in a sport normally reserved for the chill of autumn and winter.
Sweeping offseason coaching changes at all three local high schools, nonetheless, have players working extra hard as those new men in charge look to change the mindset and cultures of programs that have fallen short of expectations the last few years.
New Union City head coach Darren Bowling has isolated his troops three hours away on the old campus of Columbia Academy, where the Tornadoes are being put through three practices a day in addition to weight-lifting and “skull” sessions.
The first of those practice sessions in pads came when the team was awakened at midnight on Sunday by the staff.
Bowling, who spent four seasons at another county school — Obion Central — prior to taking the Dyersburg head job and going 10-2 last season, has said from the outset of his hiring that priority No. 1 in his new post was to improve the Tornadoes’ mental toughness.
Strenuous offseason weightroom workouts after a demanding set of spring drills have weeded out those who opted not to buy into Bowling’s philosophies as UC took only around 30 players to camp, including freshmen.
And while he admittedly would like more numbers, the new Purple and Gold skipper believes he has a core group he can count on to restore the proud tradition of a program that has posted back-to-back 6-5 seasons in Class A after years of being a perennial double-A powerhouse.
The Tornadoes — scheduled to return from Columbia Thursday evening — will scrimmage three times prior to opening their season at home against Westview Aug. 29 in a traditional Week 1 game.
The first of those scrimmages will be Friday at 6 p.m. when Dyer County comes calling.
The Choctaws are coming off a 10-2 campaign — during which they won the Region 7-3A championship — and provide a sharp contrast to UC’s smash-mouth midline and veer offense with a wide-open passing attack modeled after the scheme of noted guru Tony Franklin.
The Twisters will scrimmage again on Tuesday, at Gibson County, then for a third time, Aug. 8, at Jackson Christian School.
At Obion Central, numbers are not an issue for new Rebel boss Shawn Jackson.
Jackson said Tuesday he had in excess of 80 players show up for the first day of full-pad work the day before and that several more were expected in after returning from church-related trips. That large roster figure includes freshmen.
Jackson, hired after a messy offseason saga that started when Jason Driggers resigned after a winless season, has installed a spread-set offensive attack in his first challenge as a head coach following a decorated career as a coordinator in the Missouri prep ranks.
He is taking an unconventional approach to the preseason, though, electing not to scrimmage nor participate in a jamboree before OC’s Week 0 season opener at Jackson South Side Aug. 22.
Jackson claims that decision was two-fold in its making, keeping his plans and schemes under wraps until the regular season begins and getting his troops all the repetitions he can while implementing the new strategy. He said a handful of intrasquad scrimmages will be held under game conditions and include officials.
With essentially an all-new staff except for one coach, Jackson has already had more turnover as Jay Emmons, hired to be the Rebels’ defensive coordinator after spending the past few seasons at Lambuth, resigned and took a similar job at Jackson Central-Merry.
Jackson said that Nathan Morgan, whom he worked with at Caruthersville (Mo.), will take over the defense.
Two more assistants were also hired just before practice began. Greenfield High School graduates Josh Puckett and Adam Dowland came aboard earlier this month, Puckett having previously worked at Cheatham County and Dowland at his alma mater.
South Fulton is looking to recapture the excitement from its past glory days and has hit the ground running with new head coach Kelly Spivey, who was hired from the staff of respected Lewis County skipper Bobby Sharp.
Spivey was considered a defensive guru at the Hohenwald school and hopes to rekindle the fire in the Red Devils after each of the last two SF squads won just once — leading to the forced resignation of longtime head coach Gwin Wood.
Spivey’s work ethic has thinned the Devil ranks to 23 players.
While concerned about depth, he didn’t seem overly concerned with those numbers before putting his troops through drills on Tuesday.
South Fulton will scrimmage twice and play in a jamboree before opening the year at home vs. West Carroll Aug. 22.
The Redmen will be involved in a three-way workout Friday against host Waverly and Perry County, then will host Houston County on Aug. 8.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.

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