LAURINBURG — Mazani Stubbs and Jonathan Smith, two of Scotland High’s top defensive players, leaned down and firmly grasped opposite sides of a standard-sized tire before digging their cleats into the lush green grass of the Fighting Scots’ practice field.
The 242-pound all-Southeastern defensive lineman and the 230-pound SEC Defensive Player of the Year at linebacker exerted all of their energy for a 30-second period, relentlessly pulling one another in opposing directions to cross the painted white stripe behind them and win the tire tug-of-war battle.
With a swarm of teammates cheering them on, Smith finally gained the upper hand and lunged for the line to score points for his Dark Blue team.
Scotland hosted the second of five team competitions Wednesday morning, something coach Richard Bailey said is a bonding experience for the players while serving as a measuring stick for the coaches to grade competitiveness and toughness.
“They get after it, it’s a lot of fun and you find out a lot of things about people,” he said. “We have to sneak in some hard work while they’re having fun.”
The teams, broken up into eight colors, were picked draft-style by select seniors earlier in the month, and they compete against one another in various events and drills. The eight competitions the Scots ran Wednesday were the tire tug-of-war, the tire flip, the L-cone drill, the 20-yard shuttle, the star drill, the weave drill, the hoop drill and the sled push.
The staff keeps records and scores through the summer and hosts a seeded tournament, named the BCS Championship, on July 29. The winning team is rewarded with various items and their pictures are placed in the school’s gameday programs.
Head-to-head battles, like the Stubbs-Smith tilt in the tire tug-of-war, puts the competitive nature of each player on display in front of the whole team.
“Sometimes there is going to be mismatches, so it’s more about how you lose than how you win,” Bailey said. “Some of them are supposed to win, so I’m more impressed by the guy who loses tough than the guy that wins and has a great advantage.”
Smith’s Dark Blue team would go on to lose to Stubbs’s black team 29-26 despite the linebacker’s best efforts, and three other squads earned victories as well. Yellow defeated Orange 34-26, Purple beat Red 34-28 and Light Blue defeated Green 38-23.
The Scots are set to practice today for the final time before the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s mandated dead period takes place next week. They will have 10 days off before returning to the field on July 6.
Scotland’s last scheduled 7-on-7 competition at Pinecrest High School on Tuesday was cancelled, but the team did make the trek to South Carolina to compete against several other schools at Dillon High School later that evening.
Bailey, who doesn’t put a lot of stock in 7-on-7s because they don’t feature offensive and defensive lineman, said a couple of players stood out from their peers, including senior receiver Randy Leak. Bailey had high praise for the 6-foot-2 175-pounder, saying he’s been the most impressive pass-catcher on the varsity and junior varsity roster since practice started two weeks ago.
“Randy’s been the best receiver on any team all summer long, without a doubt,” Bailey said. “We were out there with six or seven other teams and he was by far the receiver at that thing (Tuesday). He’s been phenomenal.”
A few players have been absent from some of the football activities due to summer school and various obligations, but Bailey said losing Ty McLaurin, a two-way player from last year’s team, to transfer has hurt his team’s depth at receiver and in the secondary. McLaurin transferred this offseason to Crest High School after his parents moved, and Bailey will look for other players to fill the shoes of a player that was named all-SEC honorable mention in 2014.
“Really, we lost two starters when he left — our starting safety and our starting slot receiver,” Bailey said. “But, it’s the next man up and we’ve got some good players and we have to sort through some guys.
“We’re building some depth in the secondary with our backups, and on offense we have more tight ends than we’ve had,” Bailey said. “Redric (McLean) and Nautica McCallum is a name that people haven’t heard of that’s probably going to come on and play a lot. He’s been doing a good job this summer.”
Scotland returns three starters on the offensive line, including two all-SEC performers in Timon McMillan and J’Quan Breeden, and welcomes Richmond Senior transfer Bryson Patterson to man the center position. Several others on the depth chart tip the scales at 300 pounds, giving the Scots a size advantage that few in the state possess.
“We’re going to mash people,” Bailey said.
The offensive line, along with the front seven on defense that includes Stubbs and Smith, are units that Bailey sees as the strength of the team as they prepare for July and the eventual season-opener on Aug. 21 against South View.
“The best part of our team is our offensive and defensive line,” Bailey said. “That’s where we’re going to be very dominant… . They are the strength of our football team.”
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.