Spring football begins for Bulldogs
By Richard White
It’s still somewhat of a novelty in Arkansas, but the spring football season kicked off this week with the opening of practice last Monday morning. The pre-dawn 6 a.m. opener required the lights to be turned on at Smith-Robinson Stadium, and the weather was much more like November than the first day of May.
The temperature hovered in the upper 40s before and after sunrise, but a brisk wind made it feel more like the 30s. Most of the coaches and the few hearty spectators who showed up were layered against the wind chill, but the cold weather was a big surprise, even for a veteran coach who’s spent most of his career in Oklahoma.
“That was the craziest May practice weather I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Head Coach Rick Jones. “It was like February out there. But that’s part of it. You’ve got to be ready to go no matter what the weather.
“We’re all-weather Bulldogs,” he added. “6 a.m. or 6 p.m. or on the Wal-Mart parking lot, it doesn’t matter, we’re going to practice. We’re going to play and do the best we can. We’re in a sport where the conditions are not always controlled. You’ve got to be ready to go. That’s what football is all about.”
Asked about his numbers for spring practice, Jones said, “I’m guessing we’re right at 106 [players]. We’re about normal. We had two years when we didn’t have hardly any attrition at all.
“I just hate to see kids quit,” he said. “I just think we have so much to offer. Statistics show that it’s so important for kids to be involved and busy and active. I’d like to see us up around 120 [players]. We started out 13 years ago with 70. But we’ve been around 95 to 100 the last three years.”
The coach also talked about the team’s theme for the year, symbolized by the Greek word “anastasis” which literally means “resurrection”. The same word can be found in the biblical New Testament.
“That’s what the leadership council decided,” said Jones, “and we’re going to talk about the “new dawn”. There’s a lot of great stuff when you Google the term “new dawn”. I think the focus has to be forward. Every year is a new year. I think we’ve got to focus on this football team.
“Last year is last year and the year before is the year before, and we can’t do anything about it. Instead of looking [ahead] or looking back, we just want to focus on what we can do today to be the best team we can be. We’re going to focus on today.”
The Bulldogs reached the 6A state finals undefeated (12-0) in both 2015 and 2016, only to lose the title game to Pine Bluff and Russellville, respectively. They want to take that final step in 2017 and bring home the crown.
Asked about points of emphasis this spring and throughout the summer, Jones said, “We’ve got to continue to be flexible defensively, and offensively we’re trying to be better in short yardage situations. And as usual, we’re trying to play as fast as we possibly can.”
Present on the field but not participating in practice were two key seniors-to-be, starting quarterback Connor Noland and starting running back Kenny Wood. Others were missing as well.
“Kenny got hurt. He [injured] a hamstring at the track meet last week, and the [other] guys are not practicing with us until their seasons are over,” said Jones, referring to baseball, soccer, and track.
The latter two sports will likely end much sooner than baseball, with the Bulldogs expected to make a deep run into the playoffs and perhaps challenge for a state title.
Connor Noland is the team’s top starting pitcher and plays third base when not on the mound. Sophomore receiver Peyton Holt is also the starting shortstop for the Diamond ‘Dogs. The state title game is on May 20th.
“There’s no way I’m going to dress those guys out and put them in harm’s way when they’re trying to win a state championship,” said Jones.
Asked about any new players already on campus or expected to arrive this summer, Jones said that nothing was solid as of yet. “I’ve heard three or four different people say they were coming here or going there,” said Jones. “But I think we’ve got a couple of guys coming.
“We have an exchange student from Austria that’s been playing football over there, and he’s excited about the chance to come here and play American football. We’ll see what happens there. You never know.”
With Connor Noland sidelined for the moment, the Bulldogs are working with five quarterbacks in spring drills, but senior-to-be Easton Barrett is the clear favorite as the #2 QB.
“The great thing is that Easton’s gotten to play two years on the JV team, so he has a lot of reps. I feel like he’s going to be a good one.”
Jones said that the defense was clearly ahead of the offense on the first day of practice. “We surrendered offensively. We surrendered to the defense and to the elements. Hopefully we’ll do better on Wednesday.”
The spring football schedule is basically every other weekday, totally 10 practice sessions, including the spring game. Players will workout in the weight room on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The team will practice on Friday of this week, again from 6 to 7:40 a.m., and do the same next Monday and Wednesday. The following week they will practice on Monday and Wednesday, then hold the Blue-White game on Thursday the 18th at 6:30 p.m. Two more practices will follow on the 22nd and 23rd.
Greenwood’s first team camp will be at home on the 31st with Pulaski Academy, Fort Smith Northside, Fayetteville, and Russellville among the teams slated to attend.
Finally, asked about former GHS player and recent Arkansas Razorback receiver Drew Morgan who signed with the Miami Dolphins last weekend, Jones said, “I just know that when you’re not drafted, in some ways it’s better. You’re a free agent and you can sign with anyone you want.
“It’s an opportunity, and you just have to be ready to make the best of it,” said Jones. “I’m sure that [Drew] had several [teams] interested in him. Even those guys who sign free agent contracts get a little bit of money. They get a signing bonus and then play for the league minimum for a few years.”