For the last two years, the Woodland High football program has been touting the Class of 2019 as the one to take the Wildcats to the next level.
So far through spring practice, according to head coach Tony Plott, the rising juniors have put on display the improvement necessary to make the program more competitive.
“The rising junior class, they’re turning into young men now. They’re not babies anymore,” Plott said. “Watching them on the field performing has been fun. You’re talking about Justice Carter, Titus [Jones], Seth [Johnson], Carson Knox — all those kids — Jalen Hudson, Jaymie Jacobo, Tanner Wilson. All these kids that we’ve had since they were freshmen, they’re growing up. Now, instead of being a JV team that’s playing on Friday night, we feel like we’re a varsity ready to play.”
Spring practice began on April 27, and the Wildcats will look to show the improvements they’ve made over the winter in the weight room and through the spring in a scrimmage at Lithia Springs against Morrow on Thursday. That scrimmage will have a kickoff of 6 p.m.
“The kids, you can see a little bounce in their step, the excitement,” Plott said of the impending scrimmage. “I think they’re ready to hit somebody different.”
“They’re a team that’s struggling, a little bit like us last season,” Plott said. “Talking to their coaching staff, their numbers are going to be down a little bit. Looking at the stuff we’ve seen on them, they’re athletic. They have some big, strong kids, and their coaching staff wants them to be a power football team. So it’ll be good for us to line up against that. We’re excited.”
Plott said Woodland has not prepared much for Morrow, but instead has worked on the fundamentals. Blocking and tackling, and implementing the offensive and defensive systems, have been the priorities.
“I think, like all coaches, the No. 1 goal is to put in our base packages. We want to have our base offense and our base defense,” Plott said of what he hopes to get out of spring. “On top of that, just as important, the fundamentals of blocking and tackling. It doesn’t matter what offense you run or what defense you run, it really just comes down to blocking and tackling. We’ve put a big emphasis on that throughout spring practice.”
Besides the visible improvement of the junior class and some of the other young players ready to step up into more prominent roles, another sign of optimism for Woodland is how many more players are out for spring ball than in years in the past.
Plott said there are over 90 players out this spring, which is a dramatic increase over his previous two years at the helm.
“We have some coaches who have done a great job of recruiting kids out of the hallways and getting them here, so that’s a big difference from last year,” Plott said.
Some of those new players will be able to make an impact, but it’s a few of the returning players who have another year of experience under their belt that will lead the Wildcats into next season.
One of the team’s running backs, Justice Carter, appears to be ready to take the next step, based on his spring and weight room performance, according to Plott.
“Justice Carter looks like a different kid out here,” Plott said. “You can see the work in the weight room has helped him with his confidence. He’s putting up incredible numbers in the weight room. He’s like a little bowling ball out here. He’s fun to watch.”
Titus Jones will be making the move from cornerback to free safety, where he excelled in limited time last year. He’s another player who has impressed in spring ball, as have running backs Chris Mills and Evan Rose.
Jaylen Ballard, a contributor on the basketball court for the Wildcats, has shown off some athletic talents and Plott said “he has a future in football if he chooses to go that route.”
As for the quarterback position, the Woodland coaching staff is trying to keep players from having to play on both sides of the ball, meaning Jones has not been taking reps at quarterback. Instead, returning starter Brody Williams has been sharing snaps with Seth Johnson.
“Both of them have their bright spots and both of them have things we have to work on,” Plott said.
Regardless of who takes the reps at quarterback, the Wildcats will be running the Wing-T next year, the formation they found the most success with last year after experimenting with the option earlier in the season.
“It’s like our kids feel more comfortable in the T,” Plott said. “You can see a confidence about them when we’re in the T. Not that we don’t want to do other things, but you can see the difference when we’re in the other formations.”
Overall, Plott said Woodland has made strides this spring, even though the weather has affected when the ’Cats have been able to get on the field.
Several practices have been rescheduled, and Thursday’s scrimmage was originally scheduled for Friday, but was moved due to the threat of inclement weather.
“We had a couple of rain issues that we’ve fought like everybody else. So we feel like we could have done more, but it is what it is,” Plott said. “We feel like we’ve laid a foundation to continue to get better over the summer.”