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Twisters up-close appear primed

Twisters up-close appear primed
Messenger Sports Editor
Passersby at the Union City High School football practice field the last couple of weeks likely have done a double-take.
A closer examination, though, or for those who elected to stop and observe the Tornadoes’ spring practice drills, revealed it’s been business as usual.
The Purple and Gold regularly suited up 35 players — not counting upcoming freshmen — for the annual offseason rite of 10 days of padwork that was to conclude today. Those numbers were as many as a dozen more than what regularly has been a roster size usually void of such bodies and depth in Darren Bowling’s four-year tenure.
But before anyone dare think anything radical is being employed with the Twister program, rest assured Bowling’s tried and true methods are still being taught and practiced.
“If anybody thought they were in the wrong place, they’d just need to stop and see the worn-out grass in the middle of the practice field and know that we’re still doing the same thing,” the Union City head coach laughed before Thursday’s practice.
“As far as our numbers, I believe we’ve finally crossed that bridge to where we’re going to have some good-sized classes and that the shock-and-awe of how we do things and what we expect from our kids is over. We’ve got some people in place for the next several seasons, starting with a good senior class of 15 this coming fall.”
The Tornadoes spent the majority of spring practice hammering away at perfecting their mid-line veer offense and improving the tackling from what has been a porous defense the past two years.
At the same time, players and assistant coaches have been familiarizing themselves with each other after a staff overhaul that saw veteran college aide Ricke Mallory and West Carroll defensive coordinator Wade Maddox join the program this spring to bring a veteran presence.
“I’d say the big thing coming in has been us all getting on the same page,” Bowling said of the get-acquainted period between players and coaches. “And everybody has done a great job. The coaches have let the kids know of their expectations and introduced them to their schemes, and the coaches have learned the players’ names and a little about each one of them.
“Coach Maddox has really acclimated himself with our kids by doing a lot of film study from last year. And Coach Mallory has just jumped right in with our linemen and has been a great tactician in his teachings. I couldn’t be happier with our coaches and our kids right now with the chemistry we have.”
Typical of Bowling-coached teams, UC practices have been physical with a lot of one-on-one hitting and an extra focus on tackling this spring.
The coach singled out a handful of players who’ve had particularly-good offseasons, including defensive back Keontre Murrell, two-time 1,000-yard rusher Keylon Hyde, linemen Walker Barnes, Kane Taylor, Jamie Pirtle and twins Zach and Mason Parker.
Ricky Dillion and Ricky Henry on the defensive side have also stood out, according to the Maddox, who’ll serve as the team’s defensive coordinator.
“We just worked on being physical and finding out who is tough enough to play for us,” Bowling said. “One of the things I’ve been most impressed with has been our scout team and how much resistance they can give our starters now.
“Getting a good look in practice is so important, and because we had to play some young kids last year due to injury, we have some depth and those kids are pushing our starters. Competition is always important, and it’s certainly made us better.”
After rebounding from an injury-riddled beginning to the 2011 season that included starting quarterback Travis Rutland missing the first half of the year, UC made it to the Class 1A quarterfinals with a squad that included just a handful of seniors.
Sixteen starters will return this fall from that team, and with them will come high expectations.
Bowling — who directed the Twisters to the school’s only football state title in his second season in 2009 — did not back off from those lofty prospects.
“If we can stay healthy and get a break or two, I think we can make a run (at another championship),” he said. “I feel like we have a good bunch and I’m excited about what I believe we can accomplish with continued hard work and commitment.
“There are some similarities to this team and the one in ’09, the most obvious being that we’ll have a good bunch of seniors that have been through the wars and know what to expect. And that’s what I’m most looking forward to — these seniors were forced to play as sophomores and juniors because of the small senior classes before them and I’ve watched them grow and mature into young men and collectively a good football team.”
The Tornadoes open their 2012 campaign with an Aug. 17 Week 0 home date against county-rival Obion County Central.
Published in The Messenger 5.25.12