FOUR OAKS — Most of the talk around high school football in July centers on the edges of the game.
The workouts are called seven-on-sevens, and they match teams’ ball handlers – quarterback, center, running backs and receivers – against the opposition’s linebackers and defensive backs.
The seven-on-sevens are passing workouts, and some teams take them seriously; some travel throughout the region to participate. Teams can generate early-season buzz with performances in these once- or twice-a-week scrimmages.
Meanwhile, the linemen usual toil on another field or in a weight room. Their goal is to be ready for the start of practice Aug. 1 and the first game Aug. 23.
Linemen work differently than backs and receivers, who essentially are playing tag football, but the goals are the same: improve speed and endurance.
Linemen spend time in the weight room trying to add strength, but they also work on technique.
“We’re reinforcing the principles of our offense, lifting and doing skill development,” said South Johnston coach Shane Dular said. “There’s a big focus on individual technique, but our main goal for all of our players coming out of summer camp is to make sure there aren’t any questions about what to do when we start in August.”
The summer allows for time to focus on technique for linemen, mainly footwork – from the proper explosion out of a stance to first contact with the opposing player, or that finishing move to get by an offensive lineman or complete a block on a defender.
Western Carolina University defensive line coach Mark Rhea, part of a group of Catamount coaches who conducted one-day camps for linemen this past month, says it’s even more important that linemen come into August in the best shape possible than it is for backs and receivers.
“Kids need to be ready for the rigors of the hot months,” Rhea said. “Especially for defensive linemen, you’ve got to be in shape. So we try to keep the focus on speed and getting quicker, which gets guys in shape.”
That message corresponds to what Leesville Road senior tackle Chris Pendergraft has for his summer. Pendergraft is using the summer to get back to his ideal playing weight and improve his footwork. His goal is to be as close to 270 pounds as possible when those August practices start.
He’s increased his workload every summer for the last three seasons, trying to better prepare for the rigors and grind of a season he experienced in previous years.
“The biggest thing you learn over time is trust what your coaches are telling you,” Pendergraft said. “Those 110s and 150s (sprints) we run aren’t much fun in July but they pay off in the fourth quarter of hot games.”
Pendergraft also uses tire drills and jump rope to help improve his quickness and footwork.
Garner center Dillon Counts, another senior, is using his summer to boost his prospects with college programs while getting ready to help anchor the line of a Trojan squad that’s gone 29-2 over the past two seasons. One of his goals is to get his 40-yard dash time down and to improve his shuttle-run time. He often works out with his father, a former college player.
“The summer is the most important time you have to prepare for the season,” he said. “Most of your strength development comes in college. For me, it’s all about speed this time of year.”
During those speed-driven workouts, players hope to build the endurance to get through those first few sun-drenched, humid workouts in full pads. That keeps their concentration up throughout the workout, making it easier for coaches to get their points across and make the adjustments that can lead to better game performance.
“If I have to coach effort once the season starts because they’re not in shape, that’s time I can’t teach technique,” Rhea said. “If I’m yelling about effort, I can’t be teaching you technique or a scheme like I need to be during the season.”
Both players and coaches beat the motivational drum of fourth quarter performance during end of practice sprints that teams use to build cardiovascular strength. But starting that building process in the summer makes those first few hot and humid game nights a little easier to endure.
“We want to come out of the summer in pretty good football shape,” Dular said. “We try to keep our practices up-tempo so that condition level builds throughout the summer. There are so few days between the start of scrimmages, then games in August, that to be at your best in the fourth quarter in those August games, you have to be in shape by the end of July.”
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