Preparing for the battlefield

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 5, 2000

When James Woodard joined the Natchez High coaching staff as an assistant coach in 1993, it wasn’t just because of his reputation and accomplishments on the field.

&uot;One reason I was hired by (former Natchez School Superintendent) Dr. (Willie) Hoskin and (former Natchez athletic director) Tom Williams is because of safety and equipment,&uot; Woodard said. &uot;When I got here there was no regard for the equipment at all. Now we are way ahead of where we should be. We’ve got some good stuff now.&uot;

Natchez High head football coach Elbert &uot;Mo&uot; Lyles is more than happy to have Woodard handling the equipment.

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&uot;It can be a fulltime job,&uot; Lyles said.

And with the season opener less than three weeks away, Lyles and Woodard know equipment problems can be detrimental to getting ready for the season.

&uot;This time of year, getting the equipment ready is pretty time consuming,&uot;&160;Woodard said. &uot;We have to make sure helmets are properly fitted and shoulder pads are the right size. Most everything else is pretty standard.&uot;

Cathedral coach Ken Beesley has been measuring players the past two weeks for equipment.

&uot;The time restraints are so tight now,&uot; Beesley said. &uot;We start school earlier, so we can’t afford to miss practices because we don’t have two-a-days.&uot;

Cathedral begins practicing Monday at 5 p.m.

&uot;We won’t put on shoulder pads for three days, so we can use that time finishing up giving out equipment,&uot; Beesley said. &uot;You always have 10 or 12 who have been on vacation or just now decide to go out. But we’ve been taking 5-to-10 a day during weight-lifting and getting them fitted.&uot;

Woodard has been coaching for 28 years and has been responsible for fitting helmets all 28 of those years.

&uot;You’ve got all kind of different heads,&uot; Woodard said. &uot;You have to make sure they are snug, but not too tight on the forehead. You don’t want to see more than an inch above the eyebrow.&uot;

Woodard said most helmets are the same, but that Bike makes a light helmet.

&uot;Bike got out of the helmet business, but now they are back,&uot; he said. &uot;They have extremely light helmets. (Green Bay quarterback) Brett Favre is the first one I’ve seen who has one.&uot;

Woodard said Natchez High is not able to purchase the Bike helmet now, but he would love to go to them in the future.

&uot;The padding is softer and the helmet is easier to carry,&uot; he said. &uot;The problem with some young kids is that there helmets are so heavy it works on their necks and it’s hard for them to keep their helmet up.&uot;

Helmets also come with a cushions filled with air. There are three or four holes in the top of the helmet where air can be pumped into the padding.

Each helmet carries a warning saying the headgear cannot prevent head injuries if used improperly.

&uot;We tell each individual not to use their helmet to strike with, and we read the warning to them,&uot; Woodard said. &uot;Then we get each individual to tell us what it says. They have to understand that. They have to understand it is not a weapon, but for protection. And we try and do as many neck exercises as we can.&uot;

Woodard said he advises his linemen and linebackers to wear cowboy collars, which hooks onto the shoulder pads and fits under the back of the helmet.

&uot;It does not let the player get leverage on his helmet,&uot; he said.

Woodard does not like the neck rolls.

&uot;I don’t think they give you the support you need,&uot; he said.

Woodard said suiting up a football player at Natchez High takes about $325 for each player.

&uot;We buy the best we can possibly get,&uot; Woodard said. &uot;We try and stay within the budget.&uot;

Woodard would not reveal that budget.

Beesley has been purchasing Riddell helmets through All-American.

&uot;We send the helmets to them eery other year and they check them out for us and repair them if needed,&uot; he said.

The helmets are sent back painted. Years ago, the booster club painted the helmets, but Beesley said nowadays that could lead to a liability suit if something went wrong.

Then comes fitting the player.

&uot;We measure each player’s head and have a chart that tells you the size helmet they wear,&uot; he said. &uot;Sometimes you have to change the ear pad. Then we look at the facemask and make sure it’s for a lineman or back and we may have to change that out. We make sure the helmet does not slip or slide. Coach (Roy) Garcia gives final approval.&uot;

On the opposite side, Woodard said Natchez High uses screw-in cleats instead of molded cleats.

&uot;We found that, particularly during the fall when it starts raining when it’s time to make the playoffs, the molded cleats do not stay in the ground,&uot; he said.

A typical game week means checking equipment on Thursday.

&uot;We may change cleats on Thursday,&uot; Woodard said. &uot;We will go over all the equipment and get that ready. The guys know they better not bother me on Friday.&uot;

Woodard said the toughest part of handling equipment is keeping up with it.

&uot;Also keeping it clean and repaired,&uot; he said.

And if someone has an equipment problem during a game?

Woodard said there have been times a player has left part of his equipment at the school when the team is playing on the road.

&uot;We’ve had some folks run off and leave their shoes,&uot; he said. &uot;They just stand barefoot on the sidelines during that game. But basically we take a couple of extra uniforms with us.&uot;Woodard said equipment has come a long way since he played at Greenwood High from 1967-70.

&uot;The shoulder pads and helmet have come a long way,&uot; he said. &uot;The shoes are a little lighter, but they are basically the same.&uot;Perhaps the toughest part is getting the uniform back.

&uot;We’re different from other schools in that we don’t have anybody to wash them so we let the players take home two game jerseys and pants,&uot; Beesley said. &uot;They turn them back in at the end of the year. Getting them back in time can be impossible. They want to do it on their time instead of your time.&uot;

And just a few months later the same process starts again.