Wildcats ready for two-a-day practices
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Aug. 5, 2006 - With the first football practice for the Sulphur Springs Wildcats just a few days away, the SSHS coaches took a quick trip to Helm Ranch in Franklin County this weekend to catch their breath.

They know that starting Monday, there will be precious little time for such things.

Head coach Greg Owens' staff just returned earlier this week from the THSCA coaches clinic in Austin, which culminated a month-long diet of meetings, meetings and meetings.

"There's never enough time because things keep hitting us from all directions because everybody's new," said Owens, who was hired away from Lindale in February. 'So, we're all still trying to learn each other's system, how it all fits together, what we want to do and how if fits into the time parameter of the schedule."

This weekend, they will be working in a few meetings, but Owens said the main mission of the get-away was to get away.

"It's just time to get together out of this setting because we've been working together for a month, just trying to learn each other and get the systems in, planning practices, doing depth charts, learning kids and talking about scenarios," he said. "Really, these next couple of days, we're going to try to relax a little bit. We're still going to have some meetings and get ready for Monday and Tuesday, but mostly it's just a time to relax, refresh and get to know each other."

On Saturday, the coaches will bring their families to the ranch so they can interact as well. Only two varsity coaches remain this year from Brad Turner's old staff, so families are getting a crash course in getting familiar with Sulphur Springs.

On top of that, teacher inservice begins Monday.

The Wildcats will work out from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. each day, then coaches will go to inservice workshops during school hours, then return to the practice fields for 5-8 p.m. daily workouts. On Monday, players are asked to report at 5:30 a.m. to pick up workout gear so they can be on the field by the crack of dawn.

"I'm excited too because it's football season. It's an exciting time," Owens said. "The band's out here in the heat practicing, it's a new school year, there's construction going on around the school. I feel really positive about what's happening with our school district right now."

Owens and much of his staff were able to put in pieces of the new systems during offseason workouts in the spring, though the Wildcats did not go through full pad practices because the entire staff was not in place. That means they will be evaluating players for the first time in full contract practices when the pads go on Friday.

"Hopefully, the kids retained a bunch from the spring. Even though we didn't go through spring ball, we still feel like we got a lot accomplished because we slowed things down, we taught the basics," Owens said. "Obviously, we've got to start slow - but it's still football, and football is football. You still block and tackle, run and catch.

"The terminology and how you start scheming people will be a slower process, so we've just got to be patient. That's why you have two-a-days, scrimmages and non-district ball games. That's what these first five games are for - to figure out what we've got so that by the time we get to district we'll have everybody in the right spot. We may change a kid two or three times before we get the right mix and the kids in the right spot."

Wildcat coaches will have to plug in nine new starters on offense. The only returning starters are senior center Jacob Jenkins and wide receiver Tyler Rhoades. Defensively, there are seven players who were at least part-time starters: defensive backs Ryan Gibson and Colby Mills, linebackers Stephan Petty, Brittain Diamond and Clay Wilks, and linemen Demarcus Johnson and Colt Hooten.

Owens said the players who have been at the fieldhouse lifting weights and running this summer have an immediate advantage over the others, because they will be acclimated to the heat and already in shape.

"It's going to be hot, but the kids who have been up here this summer will be ready mentally. I just hope the other kids that we haven't seen too much of this summer will catch on here quickly. We'll have to worry about getting them in shape, too," Owens said.

"We've got some kids who have really been working their tales off. I got one e-mail from a dad with a kid on vacation, and he's pulling a tire up a hill and all this stuff, so they're working. I'm excited about that."

They will be teaching basics to the freshmen class as well. The ninth-graders will work out once a day, from 5-8 p.m.

"One thing I'm encouraged about this summer is that we did get to spend a whole spring with our eighth-graders. We had our ninth-grade camp coming in, and their retention was great," Owens explained. "I'm really encouraged about those kids, and I think they're way ahead of any freshman group I've been around in a long time. That camp we had with them last week was super."

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