Local schools prepping for start of preseason practice
by Brandon Miller
bmiller@annistonstar.com
Aug 03, 2013 | 3456 views |  0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ohatchee High coach Nathan Wehunt puts equipment in a locker in the Indians’ newly renovated locker room at the school. (Photo by Stephen Gross)
Ohatchee High coach Nathan Wehunt puts equipment in a locker in the Indians’ newly renovated locker room at the school. (Photo by Stephen Gross)
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Ohatchee High coach Nathan Wehunt spent a majority of the summer working on something other than what the typical coach spends the hottest months of the year occupied doing.

While still leading the Indians’ summer workouts, Wehunt also worked to get new lockers, even getting some donations from former players. Ohatchee also worked to get new practice jerseys and game jerseys for home and road games.

The lockers were put in place in mid-June, but work continued until last week — just in time for the official start of preseason practice for Alabama public schools Monday.

Recently, Wehunt allowed each class to enter the locker room and see what had taken place the past few months.

“Everybody was ecstatic about it, but especially the seniors. We’ve got 14 seniors and about six or seven of them were crying when I let them in the room because I haven’t let them in the building the whole summer,” Wehunt said. “They knew we were going to a transformation period and doing some remodeling, but they thought they were just getting the old lockers painted. They didn’t know the magnitude of what was going to take place.”

Monday will mark the culmination of a busy summer for local coaches. The past week featured coaches’ meetings, getting the field lined and organizing the practice schedule for coaches all over Calhoun County.

Wehunt said the most important part of planning is with the practice schedule and making sure all the players are always doing something to get better.

“I just think you need to touch every phase of the game every day,” Wehunt said. “I know some coaches don’t practice special teams every day, but we’ll do two forms of special teams at the start of every practice. We’ll have a different combination every day of the week.”

For Woodland coach Larry Strain, preparation is just as important as the possibility for change. During his last 14 years at Woodland, Strain has learned to work with his team’s strengths, which may include changing the practice agenda, if necessary.

“You have different ideas and different thought processes, but in our situation at Woodland you never really know year to year how many running backs you’re going to have such,” he said. “So you have to try to project that with the kids playing and then we adapt our offense and defensive plan accordingly to who we’ve got. And you really don’t know that until you see the kids in different positions and seeing whether he can do what you’re looking for him to do.”

Finding roles isn’t going to slow down practice, however. Because Strain has so many players returning, he compared this year’s team to his 2004 and 2006 teams, both of which played for the state championship.

“We feel like we’ll be able to continue to do what we were doing because we have some many kids back, but we’re looking to increase our schemes on offense and defense because our kids are already accustomed to what we’re doing now,” he said.

That’s where Strain and Piedmont coach Steve Smith think along the same lines.

Smith said Piedmont’s offensive and defensive schemes don’t make substantial changes from what players learn in high-level youth league football up to high school varsity.

“We feel very comfortable with them knowing the terminology and things of that nature,” Smith said. “Every now and then, you’ll have a transfer or a kid come that didn’t play the year before and it may be a little bit of a fast-pace learning curve for them, but I feel confident that we can go out Monday morning and run our base offense and defense with the guys that have been in the program as long as they have.”

The Bulldogs, which have four starters returning on offense and five on defense, will have competitions for each starting position continued until Aug. 16 when they’ll host their annual preseason scrimmage.

“We always try to let returning starters know that it’s not a done deal and until we scrimmage the second week we’re going to have competition battles all the way until then,” Smith said. “Then when we get to the Monday of the jamboree we’ll start figuring out our playing rotation. So they still have a few more weeks to get out there and compete and earn a starting spot.”

The 20-practice grind, not including two-a-days, before players get a chance to run through a banner is as tough as it gets with the August heat. However, Smith and Strain gave their players time off not for the physicality of the game, but for other reasons.

Smith, who had Piedmont take all of last week off, said it gives the families of players and coaches a chance to spend time together before the four-month season kicks into full gear. Strain gave players off Thursday through Sunday to help them recover mentally more than physically.

“We give them some time off so they can do some things that they want to do that they won’t be able to do during the season since we’ll be on the field Monday through Friday and we do some stuff Sunday, as well,” he said.

The excitement around the area is noticeable. For Piedmont and Woodland, who have made a recent tradition out of making late-postseason runs, Monday starts the quest for a state championship. For Ohatchee, which is coming off a 2-8 record in Wehunt’s first season, major changes around the program have caused excitement for players who believe major changes will also occur on the field.

“I had a player come up to me a few days ago and said, ‘Coach, don’t we play in like four weeks?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ It’s not long at all,” Wehunt said. “It’s on us and this is the time. On Monday we need to have every t cross and i dotted because it’s here.”

Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star
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