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Leopards start in good condition

Published Sep. 29, 2005

They earn praise from their coach, while Springstead's thoughts are on a starting quarterback and Central will focus on tackling.

Hernando High opened preseason practice with four hours of drills Monday morning, and coach Bill Browning was pleased with the conditioning of his players.

"They reported in better shape than they did last year," said Browning, who had 35 players in shorts and T-shirts for varsity practice. "Just a little more dedication. Every year's different. Last year there were certain individuals in great shape and some out of shape. As a team, we're in better cardiovascular shape than we were last year."

The Leopards spent much of the morning going over offensive formations to familiarize players with the terminology and get them more sure of where they need to line up.

"It takes a while," Browning said. "I like to run multiple formations and move guys around a lot, but once they get the hang of it, it's pretty simple. We're doing more than most high schools, but we still try to keep it simple. It's not what the coaches know, it's what the players know."

Senior quarterback John Neal, last year's varsity backup, and Ozzie "Ray-Ray" Whitten, last year's junior varsity quarterback, looked solid on both the long-ball and short-screen passes out of the backfield. Neal missed much of spring practice with a sore elbow from baseball season, and while that remains a cause for concern, Browning said it didn't affect him during Monday's practice.

"I thought he threw well today, but it's a chronic thing where you have to be careful when it flares up on him," Browning said. "There may be practices where we may have to limit his throws, but we're certainly hoping John can come through there because he was groomed all last year to be the heir apparent."

Browning said most of the players made a strong showing in the weight room this summer, but some players are making adjustments just to get back in a football state of mind. Junior running back Dee Brown, who spent much of his spring and summer playing baseball, dropped a screen pass during offensive drills, which prompted Browning to say that "he's used to having a glove on that hand."

Overcast skies helped make the temperatures more bearable, but coaches kept players busy on the field, reminding them that summer's over and the opening game is fast approaching, Sept. 3. Late in the practice, Browning yelled at players for sitting during a break in drills rather than taking a knee.

"When did we start sitting?" Browning asked his players. "That's band camp."

SPRINGSTEAD: One of the biggest areas of competition in Springstead's preseason camp will be on the offensive line, but another hotly contested position will not be far behind _ literally and figuratively.

With the graduation of quarterback Tim Maher, the Eagles commenced practice Monday in search of a starter. Senior Mike Holtje, Maher's backup last season, and junior varsity starter David Burleigh, a sophomore, are the logical combatants for the first two slots, but the continued development of linebacker Jose Flores is making coach Bill Vonada's decision-making process difficult.

"It's a tough situation because they're all talented and they're all three great kids," Vonada said. "We think they all can help us.

"Flores has looked very good. Some of his workouts have been phenomenal."

CENTRAL: Bears coach Steve Crognale is anxiously awaiting Thursday to begin remedying what he considers the team's biggest malady: tackling. Teams may begin practicing in pads after three conditioning days.

"I thought we did a poor job of tackling in the jamboree in the spring (against Crystal River)," he said. "In these three days we're going to do a lot of starts and stances and form tackling."

Overcast skies came as a welcome sight to the Bears, but several still experienced the sensation of summer queasiness.

"We caught a break, but there were still some upset stomachs from people drinking too much during the water breaks," Crognale said. "But with all the wind sprints we do, nobody _ including the coaches _ was complaining about the heat."