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Area football players storm into weight room in off season

Natchez High School junior offensive/defensive lineman Jeffery Johnson benches four reps of 255 pounds Wednesday afternoon at the Steckler Multipurpose Building. Johnson, along with many of his teammates, are undergoing strength training in preparation for the 2014 football season. (Michael Kerekes / Then Natchez Democrat)
Natchez High School junior offensive/defensive lineman Jeffery Johnson benches four reps of 255 pounds Wednesday afternoon at the Steckler Multipurpose Building. Johnson, along with many of his teammates, are undergoing strength training in preparation for the 2014 football season. (Michael Kerekes / Then Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — After a disappointing season, Natchez High School offensive coordinator Trey Woodard said there was a sense of urgency to get started with offseason workouts.

“When you finish 4-7, that speaks for itself,” Woodard said. “Resting is fine, but you don’t lift heavy during the season, so you’re not going to kill them by lifting (now). When you’re 4-7, you have to do something.”

From the end of their season until this past Friday, NHS football players have been lifting during their seventh-period football class Monday through Thursdays.

“They’ve gotten stronger,” Woodard, who runs the team’s weightlifting program, said. “They still have to get more mature. They have to grow up; they can’t manage themselves. It’s a bunch of freshmen and sophomores — there are very few upperclassmen in this group.”

NHS is not alone in getting some offseason lifting in. Several area schools have done some form of lifting, though everyone will take a break while being home for the holidays. Cathedral head football coach Ron Rushing said participation has been limited so far.

“We’ve had some guys not playing other sports in the weight room,” Rushing said. “We’ll get back at it when we get back from Christmas. Everyone not playing soccer or basketball will start up then.”

Like Cathedral, ACCS head football coach David King said the weight room has been open to anyone who wants to use it, but football activities won’t get cranked back up until after the holidays.

“For non-basketball players, they’ll get after it, and it’ll be business as usual,” King said. “For the basketball players, there’s so much wear and tear during the season (with that sport), we don’t ask them to do much.”

Private schools like ACCS and Cathedral are much more likely to have their football players playing other sports, like basketball, as well. King said he’s never discouraged a football player from playing basketball.

“When I coached both sports, I always thought I had an advantage against schools whose kids didn’t play basketball, too,” King said. “There’s no drill you can do that’s better than playing and practicing basketball with all the moving and cutting. I always loved my football players playing basketball.”

Rushing also said there’s plenty of conditioning dual-sport athletes receive playing basketball, even if the practices and weight lifting aren’t geared specifically toward football.

“Basketball players run up and down the court and stay conditioned, and we like seeing our athletes play everything,” Rushing said. “I also think college coaches like (athletes) who play other sports, because it shows how competitive and versatile they are.”

Ferriday High School head coach Cleothis Cummings said his team began weight training the week after Thanksgiving. Like NHS, gaining strength and size is the main focus, and approximately 24 players are working out, not counting the eight or nine playing basketball right now.

After Christmas break, Cummings said he plans to include the eighth graders at Ferriday Junior High School in the team’s workout schedule.

“It’s very important (getting them in),” Cummings said. “I call them puppies, and you want to get them in as quickly as possible, especially as it pertains to weights. A lot of them, they do have the skill, they just don’t have the strength capabilities right now, so we’re just going to focus on that, getting them stronger.”

Unlike the smaller schools, many of NHS’ seventh-period football players aren’t playing other sports. Woodard said the numbers have still been small — for different reasons than the private schools, however.

“We’re the smallest we’ve ever been, numbers-wise,” Woodard said. “It’s not that kids aren’t showing up for seventh period, it’s just that we’re in the 30s, numbers-wise.”

New Trinity Episcopal Day School head coach Zach Rogel did not respond to a message seeking comment. However, he has previously said he plans to get offseason workouts under way shortly after he officially starts working for the school full-time Jan. 7.

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