High School Football

Excitement high for first day of football practice around Beaufort, Jasper counties

The Island Packet and Beaufort GazetteJuly 28, 2012 

Ken Cribb didn't mince any words. The Bluffton High School football coach couldn't hold back his excitement any longer.

"It was my best first day in 25 years of coaching high school football."

Cribb and the Bobcats opened up preseason practice Friday morning with the taste of last season still in their mouths. And that taste -- a 42-27 loss at the hands of South Pointe in the state championship game -- still seemed ever-present on Day 1 of the 2012 season.

"They'll always remember how close they were to having a perfect 15-0 season," Cribb said. "I think that's something that's helped drive them."

It certainly seemed to drive them Friday.

"It was just remarkable," Cribb said of practice. "It was awesome. It seemed like we just practiced yesterday, to be honest."

The Bobcats were one of six area football teams to begin preseason drills Friday, each with its own set of story lines.

Bluffton's new region rival, Beaufort High School, began with the usual late-summer issues -- waiting on physicals and players attending camps or returning from vacation -- but started with a pair of 90-minute practices.

"It probably was the best turnout we've had here, both the summer and showing up on the first day," coach Mark Clifford said.

Clifford, whose split-back offense doesn't vary often, jokingly announced a switch to empty-set shotgun for 2012.

The Eagles will have about five or six days of two-a-day practices and would hold an intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 3 in Eagle Stadium.

"We're trying to outwork the opponent while we're on the football field," Clifford said.

The Eagles have a new defensive coordinator, Andy Smyth, but a similar system to the 4-4 looks run by former defensive coordinator Jerry Hatcher, now head coach at Whale Branch Early College High School.

At Hilton Head Island High School, new coach B.J. Payne underwent his first preseason practice with the Seahawks.

"We're very pleased with the retention from the spring," Payne said. "You're always concerned about how much a guy is actually going to remember when they come back. We were really pleased with that. The effort was good and the kids have been working hard."

The Seahawks went through spring drills without contact after their new helmets failed to arrive on time, but they had them on Friday. The Seahawks will wear helmets until Monday -- the first day pads are allowed -- before full gear follows on Wednesday, Aug. 1.

"It was kind of a blessing," Payne said of the spring. " ...Those were basically teaching days every day during the spring."

The team returns offensive coordinator Steve Fuller this season, but he'll be joined by run-game coordinator Michael Bailey, a position coach last season with Battery Creek. On defense, Payne already has installed three coverages in the Seahawks' new 4-2-5 scheme with another set to be added Monday.

"It's changing the attitude, changing the culture as well as what we do defensively and what we do offensively," Payne said. "There's been a huge learning curve for everybody involved. Coaches, players, myself."

Players at Whale Branch are learning a new system under Hatcher. The Warriors practiced three hours Friday morning and will practice again this morning.

Their first scrimmage is against Colleton County on Aug. 3.

"They got after it," Whale Branch athletics director and assistant football coach Carlos Cave said. "They're focused on the things Coach Hatcher wants to see them do. He's really drilling in the discipline aspect of it and how he wants to do business. The kids are responding to him very well and responding to the new coaches on staff."

At Battery Creek, coach Jim Shuman started his second season as head coach with a three-hour session in the evening. The Dolphins, who dropped to Class 2-A, are looking to improve on a one-win 2011 season.

Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School got things started early to beat the heat, practicing with a consolidated roster for the first time at 12:01 a.m. for an hour and a half before reconvening again at 8:15 a.m.

"Coach (Richard) Kirkland always did it," said coach Blake Raley, referring to the midnight practice. "The kids really looked forward to it."

The speed of the Jaguars, who move to Class 2-A this season, was evident, and two players who stood out were running backs Devontae Doe, formerly of Hardeeville, and Marquis Griffin, formerly of Ridgeland.

Raley said he wouldn't be sure what he really had until the kids put on the pads, but he said he has 17 or 18 players of roughly 50 on the roster who will see the field a lot.

"We've got a lot of kids here who are trying to set their mark, their legacy," he said. "People always remember the first team. From here on out, you'll be measured by this first team."

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