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Vidalia Vikings work fundamentals in first day of spring practice

BEN HILLYER | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Vidalia Viking football players Jarius Thopson, right, and Antione Taylor go through exercise drills during the first day of spring practice.
BEN HILLYER | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Vidalia Viking football players Jarius Thopson, right, and Antione Taylor go through exercise drills during the first day of spring practice.

Vidalia — To rebuild a program that’s lost 35 of its last 40 games, Jeff Hancock begins his job as new Vidalia Viking head football coach by teaching the fundamentals.

Nervous bodies filled the Jerry Roberts Fieldhouse Monday afternoon, as Hancock greeted his team with a list of instructions, a daily agenda and a desired mentality. Questions from “What’s Coach (Dee) Faircloth like?” to “Are we dressing in full pads?” were whispered among entering junior high individuals.

Hancock commanded his team to take a seat in front of his dry-erase board, where he had 15 topics listed. As he met with a group of roughly 46 high school and eighth grade players for the first practice of the spring, Hancock preached responsibility, attention to detail and accountability.

Because weather permitted his Vikings from working outside, he split the team into two groups — junior high and ninth grade and high school students — and gave them different orders of instruction. While the upperclassmen selected their lockers and received their equipment, the ninth and junior high players lifted weights with Hancock, except hardly any lifting occurred.

After lifting just the bar, Hancock used workouts learned from coaching several college clubs to strengthen his players’ core. Shifting from one position to another, Hancock called for different exercises with an up-tempo style similar to the playing style he would like to employ at Vidalia, should his players fit the system.

“The core is the most important thing,” Hancock said. “We’re starting from ground zero.”

As a result of this “starting from the ground up” approach, a popping sound in Dee Faircloth Viking Stadium this spring will be removed. Shoulder pads will not make an appearance. Instead, Hancock will test his team’s agility with the defensive players getting the first crack with Faircloth today and the offensive players working out with Hancock tomorrow.

Along with running, strengthening their bodies and learning Hancock’s playbook, Hancock requires each individual player come up with three personal goals. Three team goals, a team slogan and a day reserved for the team to join the community in cleaning the stadium on May 7 will be required also.

BEN HILLYER | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Kendrick Lyons and Julian Wilson do push ups during the first day of spring practice. VIdalia practiced indoors due to weather.
BEN HILLYER | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Kendrick Lyons and Julian Wilson do push ups during the first day of spring practice. VIdalia practiced indoors due to weather.

While the underclassmen strained with pouring sweat, select upperclassmen joined them to cheer them on and help them with technique.

“Easy isn’t it?” Hancock asked to motivate the group. “You can do this all day.”

Meanwhile, Faircloth stationed in the equipment cage where he was “Easter egg hunting” for cleats.

When a player brought him a pair of cleats without tips, Faircloth looked at him and riddled a story in typical Faircloth fashion.

“These are illegal,” Faircloth said. “You know how I know that? Because I used them before and got caught. Heck, after that, (Ouachita Christian School) wore them against us one year, and I tried to tell the referee. He just looked at me and said, ‘I ain’t getting down there in that mud to look at ‘em.’”

Faircloth, who told the current players that he coached most of their fathers, can’t wait to test the players’ athleticism today.

“I just want to see their agility and watch how they use their feet,” Faircloth said.

As the underclassmen finished up, Hancock rushed the rotation, welcoming the remaining group of returning players for their workout.

Any delay in time caused Hancock to strain. Timing is everything for Hancock.

“I’m (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) like that,” Hancock said.

As the workouts intensified — Hancock used 10-second bench reps, followed by 10 regular reps and five more 5-second reps — Hancock demanded more from his veterans.

“I need you, upperclassmen, to teach the young guys,” Hancock said. “How bad do you want to win? I want you to think about that every time you work.”

Hancock calculated every workout. Unable to get his team on the field, Hancock used workouts like hip-flexor stretches to gauge the flexibility of certain athletes.

After his team completed eight different sets, Hancock rallied his group before sending them to the gym to run laps.

For a coach with steep standards, day one was a nice start.

“I kicked their butt today,” Hancock said. “They worked hard, and we had a good turnout.”