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Natchez High works agility on the practice field for spring training

mary kathryn carpenter | The Natchez Democrat — Sidney Davis, a Natchez High School junior, practices his passes in preparation for his inter-squad game this spring.
mary kathryn carpenter | The Natchez Democrat — Sidney Davis, a Natchez High School junior, practices his passes in preparation for his inter-squad game this spring.

NATCHEZ — It wouldn’t take long for a casual observer roaming the practice fields to realize the Natchez Bulldogs won just four games last season.

The words “four games” were repeated continuously inside the locker room and onto the practice field Tuesday afternoon, as coaches tried to recall the pain of defeat to their players.

“No playing around,” said head coach Lance Reed to his players in a weight lifting session before hitting the practice field. “It isn’t funny. You know what’s funny? Only winning four games.”

Reed’s passion echoed throughout his assistant coaches on the practice field, and after every mention of those two very words, the players responded with aggression in agility circuits, blocking circuits and tackling circuits.

But as much aggression as the sport provides, the practice field was greeted with a lot of smiling faces after 30 Natchez players put annual state tests behind them, hoping to move forward with the season.

Natchez junior Sidney Davis couldn’t hide his excitement before team stretches.

“I’ve been waiting on this for a long time,” Davis said. “We’re coming along. We’re going to be good this season.”

Though it’s served as a distraction for the Bulldogs, Reed said he had to sit his players down during the offseason and tell them to worry about only what they control.

“We’ve had the pressure of getting the test scores up,” Reed said. “It’s challenging to juggle being a math teacher and a coach, but at the same time, we’ve been putting in work to maintain a program for football season. I’m grateful tests are over with. I don’t want to hear the word, ‘test’ for a very long time.”

Reed said Natchez has a good crop of skill players returning to the team, and Davis will lead them at quarterback this season. Davis is a mobile quarterback who started three games at the position last season, and though he prefers playing wide receiver, he’s willing to move into his new role for the team. Reed said the offense would run through him.

“He’s the guy right now,” Reed said. “He does the zone read well, and just him touching the ball every play is really important.”

With returning playmakers such as junior running back John Ferguson joining Davis, Reed is confident in his players making plays on the perimeter. However, the trenches may be a problem if Reed doesn’t find some beef up front.

“The depth is not good right now,” Reed said. “Our offensive and defensive lines are question marks. We’ve got guys walking around these buildings who can come help us play on the line, and we’d love to have them out. We talk to kids everyday, and if we can get some buy in, it would be great. But some kids have a hard time committing to hard work, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Practicing what he preaches, Reed knows that’s something he can’t control. What he can control is teaching the basic fundamentals in hopes that the little things will produce big things for the Bulldogs on the field this fall.

Technique has become the emphasis of spring practice, as Reed wants his team to be able to line up, get into stances, block and tackle properly. All are things Reed said the team didn’t do well last season.

“This team understands our scheme,” Reed said. “We’re reducing what we install. We won’t install that many plays.This is just basics. In order to execute the scheme properly, we have to improve the fundamentals.”

Along with fundamentals, muscle building has been a focal point for the program. Instead of working out every other day, Reed has his team working out every day, hoping to carry the gained muscle through the summer and into the season.

And if Natchez fails to muscle around its opponents in 2014, Davis has another option ready.

“We’re putting in extra work,” Davis said. “We need to get bigger. We’re not that big, but hey, at least we can run away from people.”

 

 

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