Practicing football twice a day in the August heat isn’t the way most high school students would choose to spend their final week of summer vacation, but the players and coaches of the Southport High School football team didn’t mind.
The Cardinals finished the 2008 season with a 9-2 overall record and a Conference Indiana championship. Last year’s success, combined with the team’s sudden turnaround after a 1-9 finish in 2007, put heightened expectations on the upcoming 2009 campaign. After losing several starters — including eight on offense — duplicating or exceeding last season’s achievements won’t be an easy feat. Head coach Bill Peebles said the team’s making strides, but with much work to be done, he and his players didn’t mind spending all of last week on the practice field.
“We’re trying to get back to where we were last year,” Peebles said. “But we have a long way ahead of us.”
Peebles said he expects the Cardinals to be undersized and physically disadvantaged in most games, as they were last year. However, he added that, with so many new faces in the starting lineup, the overall speed of the team may not be what it was a year ago, so the 2009 Cardinals will simply have to be more efficient.
“We’re not going to be bigger than everybody,” he said. “We’re going to have to execute and make very few mistakes.”
The Cardinals are working with an overhauled lineup in which many new starters are trying to find their respective roles and the coaching staff is still pinpointing the team’s identity, Peebles said. That factor, combined with the team’s emphasis on execution, left no time to waste during last week’s practices.
As the team spent hours practicing plays and simulating game situations, players were required to sprint to huddles and the line of scrimmage. The team also had conditioning scheduled for each day, ranging from running to tossing medicine balls across the field, but with so much to be done during last week’s practices, lack of adherence to team rules or effort during practice could add to the day’s conditioning.
After one offense player committed a penalty during a simulation, for example, he was told to perform seven pushups. In a real game, he said, the penalty would have killed the team’s drive and taken seven points off the board. The punishment was minor, but its purpose was to make the player realize the larger effect of his mistake and be more aware in the future.
What happens during two-a-days, Peebles said, sets the tone for the rest of the season. With only a few days before the start of the season, the week of practices is the last chance to both correct mental mistakes and evaluate the team’s standing.
“You go through so much adversity during two-a-days,” Peebles said. “It’s the first true test they have before the rest of the season.”
From that adversity, however, senior linebacker Joe Gilliam said there was more to be gained than football skills alone. After a week of practicing all day under the mid-summer sun, a team develops toughness and other personal traits that will be critical during the season, especially when facing a deficit.
“What it takes to come back in the fourth quarter is character,” Gilliam said. “Two-a-days build character.”
Gilliam’s teammate, junior quarterback Treavor Gebhart, said the long days at practice also helped strengthen the team’s already strong camaraderie. When not together at practice, they’re at one another’s houses, and that helped to keep the serious practices a bit lighter.
“We always have fun,” Gebhart said. “All of us are friends, and that separates us from a lot of teams.”
They spent their last week of summer vacation sweating, bleeding and hitting in the heat and humidity, but the team has high expectations for itself this season. Now, the Cardinals are anxious to see if that hard work will pay off when they start the season against a local rival.
“We’re looking forward to playing Roncalli on August 21,” Gebhart said.
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