Like pretty much every other youth sport nowadays, football has become pretty much a year-round activity at the high school level.
Each segment of the year provides something a little bit different, with the summer allowing for arguably the most individual improvement. That season, at least in regards to Georgia high school football, essentially comes to a close when the calendar flips over to August.
With that time of year now upon us and fall camps able to officially get underway, it’s time to look back at the 2019 summer schedule and how it has impacted Bartow County teams.
Tigers hosting another Midnight Madness
Every preseason that Eric Bishop has been in charge of the Adairsville football program has started the same way. At 12:01 a.m. Aug. 1, the Tigers have been on the field, under the lights and in pads. 2019 is no different.
Scratch that. It is different. Not the famed Midnight Madness kickoff to fall camp, that’s still the same. But where the Tigers are football-wise at this point of the year is well ahead of where they normally are when August rolls around.
“We’re so far ahead on the installation schedule and stuff like that,” Bishop said. “We’re probably just as much or even more ready to get into pads as any other team in the state, simply because we’ve spent so much time together. It’s really just time for us to turn the page and get into pads. … You can’t be in pads until Aug. 1, and we’re going to do like we’ve done ever since I’ve been the head coach — we’re going to try to be the first ones in pads.”
One of the obvious reasons, especially compared to last year, that this team is ahead of previous iterations comes from the schedule. At this same point in 2018, teams had barely a calendar week to prepare for scrimmages, while the regular season started Aug. 17. This year, the GHSA moved the start of the regular season basically back a week, allowing teams more prep time.
The other thing that helped the Tigers seemingly get a jump on their predecessors was a team camp in Marion County, Tennessee. In Bishop’s view, the camp was one of the three most influential events of the summer for Adairsville, along with Mike Hodges’ famed offensive line camp at Middle Georgia State and a 7-on-7 passing camp at Calhoun.
It all adds up to one of the most productive summers of Bishop’s tenure.
“A lot of good things came out of this summer,” he said. “With the lineman camp, the work ethic and the approach to what we do on the O- and D-lines from coach Hodges’ camp was very good. I felt like it kind of ramped up what we were doing on a daily basis in our summer workout program. The Calhoun 7-on-7 camp is always good — a lot of reps, a lot of good looks. It’s not a win-lose situation there. It’s a passing camp instead of a tournament. We get do-overs and coaches can coach through things. That was a great thing. … This is the first time the team has been to an off-campus team camp since I’ve been there, which is like 16 years. I think the last time we did that coach Johnny Gulledge was the head coach.
“We really feel like we built some chemistry and developed some relationships. There’s been some trust factors that have been put into place, and we’ve had some great practices. We look forward to keeping this thing going in a positive direction that we haven’t seen in a couple of years.”
Canes take different approach to summer
Following a summer with a lot of uncertainty, the Cartersville football program faced far fewer question marks this offseason. Due in part to a better understanding of the team’s personnel and the regime change that came with former head coach Joey King leaving for the collegiate ranks, the Canes had different priorities this go around.
“This summer, we spent a lot of time building upon what we already do,” first-year head coach Conor Foster said. “Last summer was a little bit different, because we were still trying to figure out who were going to be our guys. We wanted to see how they would respond to the fire, so we went to a lot more camps to see how they would respond. For the most part, we’ve got a team of guys we’ve seen respond, so this summer has been about focusing in on being the best that we can be and improving what we do.
“Being a new head coach and having two new offensive coordinators, we’ve spent a lot of time making sure we’re all on the same page — from the top down. We spent a lot of time on special teams and a lot of time paying attention to the details of what we do on both sides of the football.”
For those reasons, Cartersville opted against competing in events such as the Corky Kell Classic 7-on-7 tournament. Instead, the Canes preferred small playdates with other local teams that took on more of a true practice feel. For instance, Cartersville hosted Dalton on a recent afternoon, during which the teams worked on game situations like running a red-zone offense or a two-minute drill.
“We still got a lot of work in,” Foster said, “but hopefully, our work was a little bit more productive.”
Even if some aspects of Cartersville’s June and July schedules changed, there was still plenty of familiar features.
“We had a busy summer,” Foster said. “Guys are involved in a lot of individual camps in June. Offensive line went to Mike Hodges’ camp down in south Georgia. Go down to the middle of nowhere, turn left and you’ve got a bunch of big boys from all over the state working. It’s really good for their work, conditioning and mental toughness. But also I feel like it brings them closer together, and that part of it, I really love. …
“We felt like we were really able to get some good work in. I’m very pleased with our summer.”
Cass' Hughes: ‘Best summer we’ve ever had’
Tough players in the trenches were a staple of the Cass football program even before Bobby Hughes took over in 2014. But the Hughes era has successfully enhanced that reputation.
This summer, though, might have been a watershed moment. The Colonels attended three padded camps and almost certainly turned some heads when they brought 21 players — second-most of any team, according to Hughes — to Mike Hodges’ O-line camp in Cochran.
“Probably without question the best summer we’ve ever had since I’ve been here, as far as our performance,” Hughes said. “We continued to get better and play better. We had really good effort in the weight room. It’s just been a really good summer.”
Cass co-offensive coordinator Ashley DeWitt spent all five days with the linemen at Middle Georgia State, while Hughes attended two of the days. The head coach liked what he saw down there, but he also thoroughly enjoyed the aforementioned padded camps, particularly one recently hosted by Northwest Whitfield.
“I like the padded camps, because of the way they structurally break them down,” Hughes said. “You can concentrate on specific areas. For instance, you can have an inside period, a perimeter period and you can have an 11-on-11 period. I enjoyed the ones we went to earlier in the summer. But the one we went to last week at Northwest, I like that one, because the pace at which you do it really leads you into the official start of practice from a conditioning standpoint.
“You almost trick the kids into getting in shape, and they don’t even realize it. It’s a lot easier to get them into shape when they’re competing than when they’re running sprints.”
As far as what made this summer different, Hughes believes that credit goes to this year’s group of seniors and the standard they have started to set for the season.
“Every year is different, because you have a different group of seniors,” Hughes said. “This group, a lot of them got a lot of playing time in a lot of close ballgames and realized how tight some of those ballgames were. They knew the stuff it would take to get us over the hump. They’ve kind of held each other more accountable.”
Wildcats focus on competition
In many ways, the Woodland football program is experiencing a summer akin to the one Cartersville went through last year. After a large senior class departs, there are always plenty of holes to fill.
The best way to find out who will be able to step up is to put them in a game and see how they react. Obviously, a coach doesn’t want to wait until the year starts, especially in a sport with just 10 regular-season games, to find an answer. That’s when summer competitions can become a massive advantage.
“We just try to put the kids in position each week — whether it’s 7-on-7s, padded camps or whatever we’re doing — that they’re in a position where they have to compete,” Woodland head coach Tony Plott said. “I think we did that with our schedule. The kids got a lot of competition. They got to see other kids from other schools. I think that helps make summer a lot more fun also.”
Like most teams, Woodland had a well-rounded summer with work specifically for linemen and skill-position players. However, Plott and his players seem to enjoy the padded camps the most.
“We went to a linemen camp at Holy Innocents’ back in June, and the kids loved it,” Plott said. “We kind of held our own linemen things here, where we worked on skills and stuff to give them extra practice. … We had 7-on-7s at Pepperell that we went and participated in. We really got some good work in there. The biggest thing was the two padded camps we were involved in. We went to Pickens County for a two-day camp there, and then we were fortunate enough to go to Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville for FCA camp again. It’s the fifth year we’ve done that. It was great.”
He added, “They love the padded camps. The ones who love to hit, that’s what they live for all summer. Just going away and staying overnight, the kids love that also. It’s a great experience.”
The hope is that the work put in over the summer translates to on-field success in the fall. With such a young team, some fans could be already looking ahead to future years, but Plott thinks that would be a mistake, considering the pieces he has in place for the 2019 season.
“The kids that we’ve got coming up are talented, we’ve got some really good athletes and we’ve got some kids who are capable of playing at a high level,” Plott said. “They just need experience, and that’s what we’re trying to give them, as much as we possibly can.”