BY TIM LEIBLE | firstname.lastname@example.org
The South Carolina High School League football teams started practices on Friday as they gear up for the 2019 season. Sumter, Crestwood and Lakewood all hit the ground running with morning practices.
Sumter is coming off a 10-win season and is looking to carry that momentum forward. After a full slate of spring and summer activities, the Gamecocks brought some great energy to the field for head coach Mark Barnes.
“We have been practicing for most of the summer, so from that standpoint it’s not that different, but it is different because it’s the first day,” said Barnes. “The players get a little more excited about football because games and scrimmages are getting ready to happen. There was more excitement at practice today and from a coaching standpoint we’re just trying to tie everything together that we’ve been working on in the spring and summer to get ready and put it out on the field.”
Sumter has a nice mix of returning starters and new players to the lineup, but Barnes isn’t too concerned about getting newer players up to speed.
“We like to think we’re a program and not a team,” said Barnes. “The difference is that teams come and go, and graduation hurts you badly when you have a team. When you’re a program, you’ve got guys ready to fill those roles and that’s where we think we are.”
The Gamecocks only have one practice under their feet, but Barnes thinks his team is getting off on the right foot.
“Absolutely. I thought today was our best day this year, including spring and summer,” said the Sumter head coach. “That’s what it needed to be. That’s what our expectation was. Our tempo at practice was up-tempo, players were running around from station to station, and it looked like a high-level football practice.”
Over at Crestwood, head coach Roosevelt Nelson saw some more of that great enthusiasm that comes with the start of fall practice.
“It was good, good enthusiasm, good energy,” said Nelson. “A lot of kids had a good, efficient first day of practice. We had a lot of the same carryover from summer. It was a good first day.”
While players have been busy with football activities all summer, Nelson pointed out that the start of fall practice brings a different tone than what the players have experienced so far this year.
“Everything you’re doing now is getting prepared for the season and to play a game,” said the Knights head coach. “This isn’t spring ball. Now we’re working toward those goals that we set out, and you see those a little closer now because they’re right up on your face.”
Lakewood head coach Larry Cornelius echoed the sentiments around the energy that comes with the first day of fall practices. While the activities aren’t too different from the summer, his athletes are coming in with a fresh and energetic attitude.
“Day 1 and Day 2, there’s not a lot of difference as far as what you’re allowed to do in the summer, because you’re allowed to have helmets on throughout the summer,” said Cornelius. “But the attitude is definitely different. When you have the first official day of practice, kids are a lot more excited and there’s a lot more of a giddy-up in everyone’s step.”
Lakewood also has the benefit of having a lot of returning starters from last year’s team. Cornelius is a little concerned with depth, but he’s very happy with the leadership his returning starters brought to the first day of practice.
“One thing I’m really proud of so far throughout the summer and, obviously, with today’s practice is that leadership I feel is much better,” said Cornelius. “I think as a team, you’re only as strong as the leaders you have on the field. There’s a lot more positive energy and there’s a lot more coaching going on from the upper classmen.”
Cornelius was happy with how his team hit the ground running on Friday, but he isn’t going to put too much weight on one practice.
“You don’t want to put too much into one practice,” said Cornelius. “You could say that we’re off to a good start and the energy was there, but you have to remember that we’re not in pads and the kids haven’t made any contact since May. I would say it’s way too early to tell. We’ll have a better gauge after our first scrimmage on the 8th (of August).”
The trio of schools will be joined by the other nine area football teams at The Sumter Item Media Day at the University of South Carolina Sumter today beginning at 10 a.m.. You can also view the event on Facebook Live.
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