By Devin Golden
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of reports from area high school football programs’ preseason camps. We will visit the remaining local teams in the coming days.
TUNNEL HILL — Thursday marked the beginning of full-contact practices for Georgia High School Association football teams.
It was also the first time this year Northwest Whitfield could replicate the game-night version of its fast-paced offense.
Throughout the summer, the Bruins have participated in seven-on-seven games and other drills that simulate Friday night competition, and they’ve had five days over the past week to work out in helmets, T-shirts and shorts. But the close of Thursday’s practice was the first time during the offseason or preseason Northwest went 11-on-11 in full pads while using offensive coordinator David Crane’s no-huddle, up-tempo style.
“We didn’t count them, but I think we ran 50-60 plays in a 15-minute span with basically our starters against each other,” Bruins coach Josh Robinson said. “Some of the things were sloppy because of that, but at the same time, while we understand it will be sloppy, it has to get fixed.
“I told coach Crane, ‘Run them as fast as possible.’”
The past two seasons, Robinson’s first two as head coach, ended in disappointment for Northwest despite the Bruins finishing with a 6-4 record each year. The reason why was that neither mark was good enough to reach the Class 4A state playoffs. In 2011, the Bruins lost Region 7-4A games to Rome, 14-13, and Johns Creek, 24-18, when a win in either would have resulted in Northwest reaching the playoffs.
In 2012, Northwest lost 40-37 in triple overtime to Gilmer in the season finale when a win would have assured the Bruins of a spot in the playoffs.
The postseason is the goal for the Bruins in 2013, and Robinson said the first real glimpse of this year’s team was a pleasant one.
“We had some really good moments on both sides of the ball, and some really ugly moments on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We’ve conditioned. We’ve ran a lot. We have seven-on-seven, 100 different things (to prepare during the offseason). Our linemen ran a lot this summer. But there’s no way to truly prepare you for a game-like situation.”
The end of Thursday’s practice was an attempt to create that feel, though. Robinson said it was the first chance to force a tempo even faster than what players will experience on Friday nights in order to get them comfortable with the speed. Some already are experienced in that regard — like talented wide receivers Tevin McDaniel and Andy Whisenant, who each made The Daily Citizen’s 2012 All-Area Football Team — but junior Caleb Shiflett is getting his first taste of what being the starting quarterback is about in Northwest’s system.
“The shorts and helmet-only period, we didn’t do a lot of team stuff,” Robinson said. “I didn’t want to get anyone hurt. I just didn’t see a lot of good coming out of it. So we did a lot of seven-on-seven ... just that kind of stuff.
“Caleb had some work with plays and our system during the spring, but we didn’t go this fast at spring practice.”
Caleb Bowie, a senior defensive end, said the first practice in pads and going “100 percent” always brings the most fatigue. He also said practicing against Northwest’s offense makes it easier for he and his defensive teammates when playing opponents who play at the same pace or a slower one.
“We get used to going against this fast offense, and it’s easier for us,” Bowie said. “We can think about what we’re doing, read our keys and listen to the calls on defense.”