Before his first Arab High School football team takes the field for its first spring practice today, head coach Lee Ozmint does so with some knowledge about what the future of the program looks like.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday, every football coach – high school and junior high – not currently coaching another sport, hit the field with sixth and seventh graders planning to play ball this coming season as seventh and eighth graders for Arab Junior High School.
And what the coaches saw left them impressed – even if they didn’t yet know all the players by name.
“I love these kids,” Ozmint said at the conclusion of Wednesday’s practice at the junior high practice field. “They’re excited. They’re coachable, extremely coachable. They ran hard and played full speed.
“All I ask of them is to give great effort and we’ll coach them how to play football. This is a good young bunch. I was very pleased.”
Even though junior high spring practice was just two days – the first scheduled day last Monday was canceled because the high school baseball team was in the playoffs – Ozmint noted that most of the coaches have been working with the players for six months, in the weightroom and in conditioning drills.
“I think the seventh graders are going to be much improved (as eighth graders),” Ozmint said. “And the sixth graders seemed like a fiery bunch.”
As for the immedate future, Ozmint and his staff begin today to shape as many as 84 kids into a football team before mid-August. That number includes rising freshmen from last season’s undefeated eighth grade team.
So far, Ozmint has been very pleased with what he’s seen in the weightroom and in conditioning drills. He’s been especially happy with the players’ energy and attitude.
“Their mindset is changing,” he said. “They’re demanding more of themselves because they know that’s the only way to expect more from their teammates.”
One of the first things Ozmint asked for when he took the job was for a sand pit to be installed on the practice field. It’s now there, and though some of the players struggle doing drills in it, Ozmint knows it’s the only way his players can become quicker, faster and more explosive.
“We do jumps, starts and re-direction work, at least once a week,” he said. “It’s basically resistance training for their ankles and joints.”
Last year, the team had just a handful of seniors, and at least one was lost early on for the season. Injuries took a toll in general because younger, inexperienced players were forced into action probably before they were ready.
All of that hurt depth and leadership.
This spring, there are 18 seniors and many of them are stepping up into leadership roles, Ozmint said. Several juniors are doing likewise, he added.
The team is generally healthy, with starters like quarterback Ross Reynolds and center Gage Mason back from season-ending injuries. Both are rising seniors. Mason was lost for both the football and wrestling seasons because of a knee injury in preseason football workouts.
Arab will conclude spring workouts with a scrimmage at home against Fairview.