Freshmen getting developed over time at local schools
NATCHEZ — Javon Washington did not anticipate starting at quarterback for Natchez High School during his freshman year.
But injuries forced the young Bulldog into the spotlight, and Washington said it was a growing experience for him.
“I was scared, and I had a lot of learning to do,” Washington said.
But learn he did, and three seasons later, Washington is ready as a senior to help lead this year’s Bulldogs into the postseason — and in the eyes of Natchez fans, hopefully deep into it.
Instead of the typical setting, where the young player is tugging on the coach’s shirt and asking to be put in, local schools like to pit their underclassmen against less experienced competition.
“We’ve had some cases where we played freshmen, but generally you’d like to have a program where you have freshmen, JV and varsity teams,” NHS head coach Lance Reed said.
“That’s how you develop young players. What we have is a system where our freshmen and inexperienced players play on JV, and our experienced players on varsity.”
And Reed said he’s happy the public schools have a system in place that allows them to gradually work their players up, much like the minor leagues in baseball.
“It gives them time to learn the system, and not be rushed into getting them ready for Fridays,” Reed said.
“We work them in slowly and have them focus on small things. A lot of teaching goes on at those levels.”
For a smaller school like Cathedral, which plays in the MSHAA, the current system is not as convenient, Green Wave football coach Ron Rushing said.
“At Trinity and ACCS, your junior high team is consisted of seventh, eighth and ninth graders, where your ninth graders are starting,” Rushing said.
“Ninth grade in public schools are part of the JV team, and they don’ get a whole season of starting, so I think the private schools have an advantage in that regard.”
With that in mind, Rushing said he’s scheduled four JV games for this season, and will bump that up to seven or eight games next year in order to get the freshmen more playing time.
At ACCS, head coach Paul Hayles said he doesn’t keep the JV and varsity squads separated too much during practices.
“Our freshmen practice with the varsity, and go through two-a-days with us. We look at the kids and see if any of them have the ability to contribute (on the varsity team),” Hayles said.
“They’re getting quality repetitions — it’s not a tackling dummy scenario. They’re not just holding pads and doing scout team stuff.”
And freshman offensive guard Scottie Floyd has shown his coaches enough to where he’s being trusted with a starting job.
“(Hayles) said I have really good footwork, and my technique was good. I feel confident. I’m not really nervous about starting,” Floyd said.
Trinity Episcopal sophomore Tanner Cage said he’s glad he had the chance to play for the junior high squad last season.
“I was ready for high school, but I didn’t want to let my classmates down, so I’m glad I played on the junior high team,” Cage said.
“It was hard, because I wanted to be on the high school squad, but I realized I had three more years of high school to play varsity, so it wasn’t too bad.”
And after the junior high season was over, Cage did get playing time last year for the Saints.
“That was a good experience. I feel like that will help me with this year,” Cage said.
Trinity head coach David King said he doesn’t hesitate to use a younger player if a need is there, as well as when the junior high season has ended.
“In the past, we’ve had to bring freshmen up when we had only 14 to 15 players,” King said.
“With us going into the postseason the last few years, we’ve been fortunate to get those young guys eight to 10 games a season on the varsity level after their junior high season was over.”
For Rushing, age doesn’t matter, as long as the player is up to par.
“I will not hesitate to play a freshman. I’m going to put the best 11 players on the field. If I have a seventh grader that’s good enough to start (on varsity), I’ll play him,” Rushing said.