Jacks mixing experience with youth

GARY STALLARD
Special to The Free Press

There’s a problem related to smaller-school football that larger programs don’t experience. In fact, to those players, such a concept is completely foreign.
The issue is having to play both ways: Offense and defense. For speedsters, it equates to running sprints for nearly 48 minutes straight. For the guys in the trenches, it means going head-to-head with another large body for the same length of time. Try it sometime. See if you can manage to sprint for more than three quarters of an hour, or lift heavy weights for that long.
Fielding a smaller roster in 2012 meant the Diboll Lumberjacks had a large number of players in the middle of non-stop action. That they were within striking distance of a win for three quarters of nearly every game was testament to the team’s talent.
That they ran out of gas in the fourth quarter proved how tough it is to play both sides of the ball.
The 2013 team numbers are about the same as last year, but the Diboll players and coaches hope they’ve found a way to overcome the challenge. The players embarked on a grueling conditioning program in the off-season, knowing every minute they pushed themselves in the spring would translate to better minutes in the fall.
“Our kids know they have to play pretty much the entire game, so the conditioning they’ve put in is going to be crucial,” head coach Shane Adair said. “We have to be prepared to battle for four full quarters, and our returning players really spent a lot of time together in the off-season getting ready for this.
“It’s really hot at practice right now, but our kids were ready for it. They’ve handled it extremely well. I’m really pleased.”
The same leadership displayed by the returning players in the off season will translate onto the game field, Adair said. Quarterback Raive Sheppard has seen time at his position for three years; running back Cielance Bailey, injured much of 2012, “worked out like crazy” in the off-season, according to Adair; and wide receiver Sammy Scott was another of the workout beasts who pretended there was no such thing as a break between football seasons. Adair said he’ll utilize Scott’s speed and versatility by ensuring the young man gets some carries as well as catches.
Players such as those are expected to help overcome a young offensive line.
“We’re going to be young up front and young out wide,” Adair said. “We’ll have to have some of these sophomores ready to step up and play for us. We’ve actually got some guys this year who haven’t played on Friday night yet. They’re young, but they’re looking pretty good so far.
“The good thing is we have experience at the skill positions, and we think that will help bring the younger players along.”
Defensively, the ‘Jacks will feature some familiar faces. Defensive tackle Fernando DeJesus, defensive end B.J. Vinson, middle linebacker Isaac Hernandez and safety Michael Garcia will resume action in their previous positions. Gary Hargrove is an up-and-comer from whom Adair expects big minutes.
Having such a mix of veterans and rookies means Adair and the ‘Jack staff will have to be patient. They haven’t marked a game on the schedule as a “must-have” game, preferring to monitor team and player progress from practice to practice.
“It’s going to take those kids some time to put it all together,” Adair said. “We’ll have to depend on the older players to bring them along.
“All of the games are important, but the more success we can have early, the more confidence those younger guys will have as we move into district play.”