Energy was high on the Loudon High School football practice field Friday, as the Redskins held the final official practice of the spring.
The Redskins were slated to scrimmage Roane County High School to officially cap off the spring, but the Yellow Jackets canceled at the last minute.
“For us, we saw a lot of improvement throughout the last three weeks,” Jeff Harig, LHS head football coach, said. “It gave us an opportunity to put kids in position to help us on Friday nights and we saw that growth from being just a beginner to a guy that showed some flashes. As coaches, we’re searching for that consistency. We have a lot of guys that would make a play, a situation would present itself the next play and for whatever reason, whether it was technique or effort, they didn’t make the play. If we’re going to be the kind of team that we think we can be, we’re going to have to find that consistency it takes to make plays every single time.”
Several players stepped up and showed consistency throughout the spring, including rising senior Drew Jackson.
After suffering a high ankle sprain in the first game of the 2018 season, Jackson has fully recovered and is expected to carry a large load this season.
“It’s went really well and we’ve had quite a bit show out,” Jackson said. “Overall, we looked pretty good. Coming in as a senior leader, I feel like I lead this team. As a running back, I feel like I get the most carries and most touches, so you set the tone of the game. Every game, I’m just going to come out and set the tone strong.”
The Redskins got a small taste of a game-like atmosphere when they traveled to Alcoa High School two weeks ago for a scrimmage that Harig believes his team competed well in.
“It was a good learning experience for us because the speed of the game was unmatched,” Harig said. “We can’t simulate that in practice. Not many teams that we’ll play throughout the year will even be close to the speed of Alcoa, so I think it gives us something to pull from when I tell the team we’re playing from Alcoa angles today. There’s a different angle a defender has to take to catch Alcoa’s players. I think it was an eye-opening experience in that sometimes the Alcoa mystique has you beat before you ever play them, but I think our kids walked away with the belief that they belong.”
Jackson took the scrimmage personally and wanted to set an early tone for the season.
“For us, it was just physical stuff,” he said. “Some of them are going to be bigger than us, but we’ve got to go out there because they’re the standard. We went out there and showed them what we had. I thought we looked pretty good and we felt good about it.”
In addition to Jackson, several other players, including Jason Blevins, Devon Nichols and Tyler Whitfield, showed consistent flashes in camp.
“We were impressed with Jason Blevins, who had a limited role for us last year on defense,” Harig said. “He showed an ability to fly around. Devon Nichols, as a sophomore linebacker, did some good things for us last year. He’s shown the ability we want from a linebacker as he makes that jump from sophomore to his junior year. Tyler Whitfield proved to be dominant all spring. We didn’t have anybody on our team that could block him. When we went to Alcoa, he made some big plays against them. He’ll be a big-play defender for us.”
The team spent the majority of spring on fundamentals and installing chunks of the playbook, especially on the defensive side.
“I would say that, offensively, we worked on our base stuff more than in the past,” Harig said. “We worked against multiple looks, so I feel like our guys are more prepared to face the various defenses we’ll see throughout the season. When you go through a 10-week season, you may see seven different defenses.
“On the other end, defensively, we’re going to be a multiple-front defense,” he added. “We installed a lot of stuff. A lot of it’s just verbiage because some of it is same techniques, but different guys. I think it was a big vocabulary lesson for us this spring, which will aid throughout the summer as we go forward to work on the fundamentals, but also have a knowledge of the big picture.”
Many high school teams have transitioned to multiple offenses that often mix option and spread concepts, which is a big reason for a change in Harig’s defensive philosophy.
“I think offenses are becoming very multiple and they’re changing from week to week,” he said. “I think an M.O. of mine has been a very simplistic defense of a base front with man coverage. I think that teams took advantage of us last year in that our personnel didn’t meet the challenge. We lost a lot of 50-50 balls in the secondary and we didn’t make plays up front when the opportunities presented themselves. I just think the game is changing in such a way that it forces me, as the defensive coordinator, to be a little more multiple and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Redskins will report back in June for workouts and conditioning before lacing up the cleats and participating in several 7-on-7 camps in July.
“June is a survival month for us,” Harig said. “We’ll have kids in baseball, kids in basketball and kids on vacation, so we’re just going to try and survive the month of June. We’ll get done what we can get done. Our priorities in June are our strength and conditioning maintenance. We’ll do some football stuff to keep that vocabulary in their heads, but come July, we really dive into our 7-on-7 stuff and start building upon what we finished in the spring from an installation standpoint.”