Five Natchez Football players are also track stars

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 20, 2008

NATCHEZ — One of the big keys to Natchez High’s football success this year has been no holds barred, unabashed speed. The Bulldogs have been making big plays all year long thanks to the speed of their skill players.

But when you have four players who were members of a state championship relay team at the Class 5A state meet last spring, and another player who competed in the high jump at the state meet, it’s no wonder the Bulldogs have been blazing past opponents this season.

It helped lead Natchez to its first playoff appearance and playoff victory since 1997 and is something Bulldogs head coach Lance Reed hopes will pay dividends Friday night in the second round of the playoffs against No. 4 ranked Oak Grove.

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“(Having speed) makes a lot of difference,” Reed said. “Football is about running, tackling and blocking. And to do the (tackling and blocking), you have to be able to move.”

Natchez running back Willie Newman, and receivers Rico Richardson, Rolando Prater and Jeremy Davis were members of the 200-meter relay team that won the state title last spring, while cornerback Ernest Jones competed in the high jump at the state meet.

All of the athletes said running track greatly helped their football ability.

“It really helped us get our form right and get our stamina up,” Newman said. “It’s hard work you can convert to the football field and execute what you’ve learned.”

Richardson said running miles and miles in track practice helps build that stamina that keeps the players fresh the entire four quarters.

“I’m real used to the Natchez Trace trail,” Richardson said. “It can only help to speed you up and build your endurance.”

While the physical benefits of running relay are important, Prater said the psychological benefits are just as great.

“It’s like when you’ve got four people running, you want each one to run their best, and when you get in a football game with four quarters, you want each of those quarters to be the best,” Prater said. “It’s a psychological as well as physical advantage.”

And Reed said he tries to build on that advantage by making offseason conditioning program very similar to a track program with lots of footwork drills and learning about running technique.

“We confer with track specialists and do drills you would see in a track practice,” Reed said. “Those drills are designed to get you fast. Whatever gets us fast, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Reed said he also encourages his players to join the track team so they can work with Natchez High track coach Larry Wesley and continue to improve their quickness.

“I urge as many guys as possible to go out for the track team,” Reed said. “We’ll work together in the offseason training the guys and working on their speed and endurance.”

And all that work has seemed to pay off this year as the Bulldogs look to continue their spectacular playoff run with a win over Oak Grove Friday.

“It has definitely paid off for us,” Reed said. “They already have God-given ability. The training we do just adds to what they’re blessed with.”