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Sumter sets tone with physical spring

The Sumter Item sports writer Danny Kelly conducted a question-and-answer interview with each of the 12 high school football coaches in Sumter, Clarendon and Lee counties, asking each the same five questions about their recently concluded spring practices. Today we start with Sumter High School head coach Mark Barnes.

Q: What was your No. 1 goal entering spring practice and did you accomplish that?

A: I think No. 1’s always we like to be physical in the spring, and found out, especially from our younger players, who will be physical and put their nose in things and do a good job on both sides of the ball offensively or defensively, you know, being physical. Yeah, we did accomplish that. Your other goal – it’s a two-part goal – you’re second part of the goal is to make sure that you come out of spring healthy. And for the most part, we did that too. Hayden Vazquez, our quarterback, had to have some knee surgery, but it wasn’t really because of the spring practice as much as it just was he had a preexisting thing he needed to get taken care of.

Q: Who was an individual that stood out to you?

A: I’d say probably two. Hayden Vazquez at quarterback; obviously we had questions there because we had a senior who graduated last year (Ontra’ Harvin) and we have, you know, we’re obviously very skilled at wide receiver and we want to throw the ball more this year, so we needed to see him make progress, and he did look like a different player this year entering spring ball. Had a great spring throwing the football and arm strength has improved, so he would be the first one. The second one would probably be Jamon Thames at defensive line at nose guard. You know, we lost some guys there so we were looking for some guys and thought that he could be an answer for us, and he did a good job inside during the spring for us.

Q: What left you a little concerned after spring?

A: Well I think that, you know, it’s not a concern because of our talent level, it’s just we lost four out of five offensive linemen. So obviously that was a concern going into the spring and still is a concern for us, and that’ll be so until we play a game and see them do it (in) the game. I think we got, you know, seven or eight guys who we feel like have progressed during the off season and had a good spring, but it’s still a matter of seeing them do it on a Friday night. So I would say offensive line’s our biggest area of concern, but we do think that we’re gonna be good there.

Q: Where do you need to make the most progress over summer entering fall?

A: Continuing to grow up front on both sides of the ball; offensive line and defensive line. I don’t think there’s any question, you know, this’ll be my fifth season here, you know, I think that our offensive skill players are as good as we’ve had since I’ve been here, if not the best group; receivers, quarterback, running back, the whole total package. So I would say offensive line, defensive line and defensive backs because, you know, we graduated some guys there. We got two guys we feel very comfortable with; obviously, O’Donnell Fortune committed to South Carolina so we know he’s a good player, and Anteon China played a lot last year for us at corner, but finding two guys there, too, would be another concern.

Q: What was one area or position you feel like you solidified in spring?

A: I think linebacker. We knew it was gonna be a good one for us; best group we’ve had since we’ve been here as a total. We feel like we’ve got six or seven guys that can play for us on Friday night at those four positions; inside linebacker and outside linebacker. So, you know, that position, you know, is a really good position for us as well as receivers, obviously; we’re skilled there as well.

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