The spring season in synonymous with new life, and Adairsville’s football program is hoping that applies to more than just nature.
Coming off a disappointing fall, when the Tigers failed to make the playoffs for the second time in three years, head coach Eric Bishop believes the start of spring practices has given his players a chance to put those struggles behind them.
“It’s kind of the changing of the guard mentality,” Bishop said. “You’ve got a new group of seniors, … everybody moves up and the young ones get a chance to step in and show what they can do.
“It’s sort of that spring fresh start, new beginning and start of a new year.”
Part of the sense of reinvigoration around the Tigers stems from a change implemented this spring, as the program’s middle schoolers have joined the rising ninth-12th graders on the same practice field.
“It was a conscious effort to integrate the middle school into more and more things that we’re doing,” Bishop said. “It’s something we wanted to do. We’ve been doing stuff in the summer with them in terms of in the weight room, speed and agility work, and that kind of stuff. This was just kind of the next step in that process.”
Obviously, every team in Georgia is doing its best to take advantage of the 10 practice days allotted in the spring. It’s an important time for the top programs to continue breeding success, but it’s arguably an even more crucial time for those in the tier just below.
Teams on the fringe of the playoffs typically have the most to gain by being able to target specific areas to improve. The ability to emphasize some of the fundamental elements of the game, particularly to the program’s younger players, can add that last push needed to get a team back to the postseason.
“We want them to play faster, play lower, as far as pad level, and really work on the physical aggression part of the game,” Bishop said of his team’s spring focus. “One of the reasons we focus on that this time of year is that it’s one of the few times you still get to put on pads, outside of the padded camp. You won’t be back in pads until Aug. 1. We’ve got all summer to run routes and throw 7-on-7 stuff. We just really focus on playing harder, playing faster and being more physical.”
Roughly the first week of spring practices, Bishop wasn’t really seeing what he wanted. Since last Friday, though, he believes his players are starting to figure out some of the issues that plagued them in 2018 and are working to correct them.
“In drill work, we look as good as anybody in the state,” Bishop said. “… It wasn’t that the kids weren’t working hard; it wasn’t their effort; and it wasn’t terminology or a scheme issue.
“It’s in the team setting that it didn’t really look like it should look, how we expected it to look or how we wanted it to look. Since Friday’s practice, that part has been better.”
A new start this spring also brings a different end to the schedule. After losing its home-and-home series with Armuchee, Adairsville was left scrambling a bit to find a replacement.
Bishop reached out to a few coaches and learned that LaFayette and Gordon Central were both available this Friday. So he suggested turning back the clock a bit to a more old-school jamboree event.
“LaFayette and Gordon Central were both looking, and I said, ‘Instead of picking one or the other, why not get together and do a jamboree-style game?’” Bishop said. “… The three of us have agreed to do this for three years, and that will get us back to the two-year cycle, and at that point, we can just get a home-and-home series with somebody to tie together for the next two-year cycle.”
The plan is for each school to host once during the three-year agreement. With Adairsville’s stadium currently undergoing improvements, including the installation of a turf field, the Tigers knew it could’t be them this time.
So Gordon Central will welcome the other two programs this year with games beginning at 6 p.m. Friday. Adairsville will open the evening against LaFayette before Gordon Central faces the Leopards. The evening will conclude with the Tigers meeting the Warriors.
Each “game” will consist of one half played with a running clock. There won’t be any live special teams, but the specialists will get to hone their craft in a no-rush, no-return setup.
Bishop doesn’t care too much about the competition aspect of the jamboree. He just wants to be able to see different players in different positions, along with hopefully seeing his guys show that they’ve learned how to play the game properly.
“We’ll have our checklist of things we’re looking for,” Bishop said. “Like every spring scrimmage, jamboree or fall scrimmage, there’s things you want to get on film and people playing in different positions. …
“There’s personnel stuff you want to see, and then are we executing, being mechanical and technical the way we want to at each position? Then we look at effort, aggressiveness and things like that.”
However, Bishop knows there are plenty of other people who are looking forward to the jamboree almost as much as they would a Friday night in fall.
By that time, a lot more will be known about the Tigers — good or bad. But for now, players and fans alike can look to the flowers blooming and remember that every year brings newness and excitement.