LAURINBURG — Sweltering, sizzling and scorching are the best synonyms to describe the conditions of Tuesday’s football practice.
Scotland players were drenched in sweat as they jogged over to get water. There was no relief from the heat, despite starting practice early in the day in an effort to avoid the sultry afternoon sun.
“It’s hot,” said Scotland head coach Richard Bailey, guzzling a bottle of cold water. “A lot of guys are laying around and we’re getting after it. We’re getting here at 7:15 a.m. and are here until 11:30 a.m. It’s lifting, running then practice in 99 degree heat which is tough. We try to go early to avoid it, but golly it’s brutal right now. Hopefully it will let up, but it looks like it’s going to be bad all week.”
Bailey is hoping the brutal conditions will better prepare his young squad for the season, which begins during the heat of the day on Aug. 18 in Charlotte.
“We’re going to play Butler at 5 p.m. on a Saturday. It might be 98 degrees, you never know,” Bailey said. “It’s going to help our conditioning with kids playing both ways to get those kids in shape. It’s hurting us right now, but long term it will prepare us for when the season gets here.”
The Scots were scheduled to travel to Pembroke on Tuesday for their first 7-on-7 against Purnell Swett, but a scheduling conflict cancelled those drills. Instead, Scotland traveled to Dillon and will head back to South Carolina on Thursday to take on Dillon in 7-on-7 drills at 6 p.m.
Bailey is not a huge proponent of 7-on-7 drills, but this season he said the drills will help hone his defensive backs’ skills. He said the run-pass option works in game-time situations but not in 7-on-7 drills because teams don’t actually run the ball.
“I’m not sure we ‘won’ any but we played for a state championship,” he said. “It will be good for our defensive backs because we’re going to play West Meck and Hillside and other teams that are going to throw the ball a lot and we have to have a strong secondary. We have all new starters basically everywhere, we have one starter back in the secondary — Tyshoun Thomas — and one linebacker, Nick Callahan.”
The heat has taken it out of the players, and coaches, over the first two days of practice, but Bailey hopes that over the next couple of months the heat will be less of a hindrance.
“These first few days we’re tired, our first two days wear on you,” he said. “By the end of the day we were dragging and about to die. We had coaches playing positions today, which tells you how thin we are in some spots because we had some people missing.”
Lack of depth was an issue Scotland dealt with last season, but this year it’s even more prevalent as Bailey will have numerous starters playing both ways — something he dislikes more than 7-on-7 drills.
“I hate having kids play both ways because mentally it’s hard for the kids to practice and focus on two sides,” he said. “It’s not some returning veterans these are younger guys who aren’t used to the program. Some were just figuring out last year’s stuff now it’s changed, especially offensively. Their heads are swimming right now, hopefully by August it won’t be as bad but right now my head is even swimming.”
Bailey said the players aren’t used to playing offense and defense and it’s taking a toll on them, but his plan is to make sure the two-way starters get a chance to rest throughout the game by rotating in the back-ups he does have.
Scotland will have three safeties, Joseph “Poppa” McKoy and two others who will rotate in when Poppa needs a break. It will be a similar situation at outside linebacker as Syheam “Smiley” McQueen rotates in and out of that position.
“Whoever is behind Smiley might as well be a starter because they are going to get 25 to 30 reps every game so Smiley can rest,” Bailey said.
The climb back up to the top of 4A classification won’t be an easy one but Bailey is confident in his troops and their ability to trust and follow the program.
“I expect it to get a lot better but it’s going to be incremental. We’re not going to jump to the mountain top, we’re going to have to climb it,” he said. “This is just one little rung on the latter, it’s a process.”
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or [email protected]