Natchez High School quarterback Anthony Robinson looks for an open man during the first day of spring practice Monday at the school’s practice field. (Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)
Natchez High School quarterback Anthony Robinson looks for an open man during the first day of spring practice Monday at the school’s practice field. (Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)

NHS players have eye on Class 5A as spring training begins

Published 1:01am Tuesday, April 23, 2013

NATCHEZ — Like the rest of his teammates, Natchez High School quarterback Anthony Robinson took great interest in his team’s move down to Class 5A.

When the Mississippi High School Athletic Association completed realignment this past winter, it was announced that NHS would no longer be in 6A, the organization’s highest classification. In Robinson’s mind, it’s an opportunity to compete.

Monday marked the first day of spring practice for the Bulldogs, and Robinson said he’s noticed a different demeanor to this team compared to last fall.

“With our preparation in seventh period, everyone’s looking really focused,” Robinson said. “Ever since (it was announced) we’re going down to 5A, it looks like everyone wants it. I think everyone knows we have a chance to win state.”

Robinson isn’t the only one who thinks so. Rising senior Darius McGruder said this year’s squad has what it takes to make a lot of November noise.

Cedarius Bailey, left, and Eric Genous fight for the ball during practice. (Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)
Cedarius Bailey, left, and Eric Genous fight for the ball during practice. (Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)

“We have really good talent and potential,” McGruder said. “I think we’ll have a good run in the playoffs, and maybe the state title.”

But the 2013 postseason is a long way away, and NHS head coach Lance Reed said his team is staying focused on basic principles and refreshers as spring practice begins. The 2013 Bulldogs have been preparing for the season ever since last season ended, he said, mostly with conditioning, speed and agility drills.

“As we got closer to the start of spring, we started doing technique-related stuff,” Reed said.

So far, he’s liked what he’s seen out of his players.

“This team has shown a lot of progress,” Reed said. “Coach (Trey) Woodard and coach (Ivan) Evans have worked with these guys tremendously. They’ve gotten stronger and faster. We tested them three weeks ago, and we saw tremendous gains, so we’re really pleased with that.”

The focal point early in the spring will be instilling core technique with some of the younger, newer players and doing refresher courses on those techniques with the team’s veterans, Reed said.

“This is a time we stress fundamentals and techniques that we require, and that’s especially true for the younger guys, but also for the older guys,” Reed said. “We have techniques that we want them to improve on.”

Some players, like McGruder, already have a head start of sorts when it comes to live football. McGruder would regularly play seven-on-seven games with some of his teammates after school during the spring semester. Though he’s a two-way lineman, McGruder said lining up at receiver has helped him with his linemen techniques.

“It helped with my quickness and awareness and getting to the ball,” he said. “It also helped with my footwork, and it really got me better with my eyes and hands. It helped my explosion, too.”

Spending a spring competing on the powerlifting team didn’t hurt, either.

“That helped me out with my strength a lot,” McGruder said. “Sometimes I’m not the biggest and strongest guy out there, but lifting really helps me out in the game.”

For Robinson, the offseason was a chance to develop even more of a rapport with his go-to receiver, rising junior Sidney Davis. This spring, Robinson said he wants to get to know the rest of his receiving corps.

“I’ve been throwing the ball with Sidney and doing agility and lateral drills,” Robinson said. “I want to get to know the freshmen receivers more and see where our power is.”

Robinson will no longer have veteran all-purpose athlete Derrian Johnson by his side. Johnson will graduate in May, and Robinson said other players will have to step up and fill his shoes.

“He made a lot of plays, but we can move along,” Robinson said. “That’s why we’re out here for spring — to find out where our tools are. I think Sidney will take his spot (in the offense).”

If a state championship is truly in this team’s future, Robinson said the players would have to carry their work ethic into the summer.

“It’s going to take a lot of hard work, more dedication and leadership,” Sidney said. “A lot more people need to be more focused.”

NHS will practice for several weeks, taking a break the week of state testing, and will cap off spring training with a spring game May 17.