At the end of Spencers football practice on Wednesday, the whole team lined up on the 40-yard line for sprints to the end zone and back. For 10 minutes, they put their hands in the dirt, sprinted across the goal line, then lined up and came back the other way.
Occasionally, a player would line up with his hand past the line or another might jump before coach Calvin Arnold blew the whistle. Every time that happened, the team would back up five yards and run again. By the third or fourth time, teammates, rather than coaches, were giving orders.
Stay behind the line! one shouted out.
Run through the goal line, another called out.
The practice was to instill discipline in a team trying to turn the corner in 2013, and in the process it brought out leadership from some of the players. When one player makes the other run extra sprints, it doesnt take a coach to let everyone know its time to finish.
In 2012, Spencer won only three games, but still had a shot at the playoffs when it faced Kendrick on the final Friday of the season. It lost that game by four points, 24-20, and had to watch as the Cherokees became the team ending a long playoff drought. Spencers sits at 19 years heading into this season, last making the postseason in 1993.
Arnold is hoping 20 is the magic number for the Greenwave, which will compete in a talented but wide-open region in 2013. One Region 5-AA coach went as far as to say Spencer may be the most improved team in the region, though Arnold, in response, smiled and said his team still has a long way to go.
Offense wasnt the biggest concern for the Greenwave a season ago. In 10 games, they averaged 28.9 points per game, including four of 30 or more. A lot of the offense came on the shoulders of running back Damarkus Robins (1,523 rushing yards, 2,755 all-purpose, 22 touchdowns) and quarterback Tarvarska Davis (100 of 172 for 2,147 yards and 18 touchdowns).
Both of those players will be back for their senior seasons, along with 2012 leading receiver, senior Richard Jones (35 receptions for 787 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012). Add in senior Darrius Lightfoot at running back, who had 568 yards and six touchdowns receiving last season, and Spencer should be incredibly confident at its skill positions.
Robins said he thinks he can be better in 2013.
I feel like Ive gotten better on and off the field, said Robins, who is eyeing 2,000 rushing yards as a personal goal this year. Im trying to be a better leader, and on the field I think Ive gotten better speed and Im seeing the holes better.
The offensive line, which has plenty of size (average: 6-foot-1, 275 pounds), is nonetheless fairly new across the board. Only one lineman from a season ago, senior tackle Douglas Turner, is back. The rest is filled with sophomores Carl Ash, Raekwon Allen and Christopher Baker, and senior Antavius Pritchett. Arnold singled out Baker, a transfer student from Texas, as someone who will help on both sides of the ball.
Robins said he think the pass blocking will be better this season, which could help the offense in the long run.
Senior Patrick Jones, who had 287 yards receiving last year, and freshman Ervin Davis will round out the receiving corps.
Not as much is known about the defense.
Only two starters return from 2012, defensive end Triston Williams and linebacker Jayson Sims, and that was off of a defense that allowed 39.5 points per game in 2012.
That number will have to go way down in order for Spencer to achieve its goals in 2013.
Weve been working hard on defense, sophomore safety Kameron Blackshear said. Weve been committed, trying to get to a higher level, that playoffs level. I think people are putting a lot more effort into it.
Blackshear is part of a new crop in the secondary, including fellow sophomore safety Daymeonta White, and corners DaShae Hubbard and Lightfoot. Baker will play inside on the defensive line along with Juanyae Wilson, and Jasaad Graves will join Williams at end.
The linebacker corps will be composed of Sims, DaShawn Roberts and Daimeyon Taylor.
Williams and Sims got significant time last year, racking up 36 and 25 tackles, respectively. The unit as a whole, however, will have to step up in order to keep the offensive firepower from being wasted.
A couple of Spencer players said they were looking forward to the first week of the season, when the Greenwave matches up against Carver. Its always a good rivalry game, though recent history has leaned heavily in the Tigers favor.
On paper, Carver still appears the stronger team, but the confidence is clearly brimming among many Spencer players.
A realistic goal this season is, indeed, a playoff berth. It was one win from doing that a year ago and, despite some inexperience at key positions, the team appears to have the firepower to make a run yet again.
Its possible Spencer could even exceed these expectations, but five wins and a playoff berth should be the minimum goal for the Greenwave.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.