Arab’s football team has been working hard since the end of the pandemic-plagued 2020 season and it shows.
Gameday Athletic Surfaces crews have been working hard this summer installing the synthetic turf at Arab’s football stadium, and it shows.
That’s good news on both fronts considering Arab begins actual preseason practice on Monday and the field will be needed on Aug. 12, when the Knights host Cullman in a preseason jamboree. The Knights open their season for real one week later against Albertville, also at home.
There is even more excitement for head coach Lee Ozmint’s third Arab team, and it’s not just because of the new green turf with royal blue end zones. Arab has 94 players out for the 2021 team, more than for any season in a generation.
And their hard work since the end of last season is showing, especially in the weight room. Numerous players have added muscle thanks to spirited weightlifting workouts. Overall team speed has improved, too, and Ozmint credits a senior class showing plenty of leadership.
“They’re leading by example,” Ozmint said. “We’ve hit a few speed bumps along the way, but I’m pleased with our senior class and the direction we’re going.”
One of those seniors, defensive lineman Jonathan Pugh, gives the coaching staff a lot of credit for the team’s improvement. New coaches Keith Henderson and his son, Hayden – who looks like a powerlifter – have pushed the players in the weightroom. And Ozmint is a vocal leader in there, too.
“It’s the coaches,” Pugh said. “They keep throwing things at us and as Coach Oz likes to say, we’re buying into it.”
Ozmint acknowledges the improvement of his team over the last eight months, despite not holding spring practice. Arab’s players worked in the weightroom and in speed and agility drills in the spring – much like they’ve done this summer and especially this month – rather than practicing. For that reason, they’re going to be able to start practicing Monday.
Teams that did hold spring practice will start preseason drills the following Monday.
Ozmint is pleased with that overall team improvement but knows the Knights can’t let up, not playing in Class 6A. They saw what happened when they faced the eventual 6A champ Pinson Valley in the first round of the playoffs.
It was a 45-0 rout. So, no, Ozmint isn’t ready to deem his team ready for its second season playing in 6A.
“I’m not satisfied and we’re not satisfied,” he said Monday. “We have a lot of work to do. We have a long way to go.
“But I have no doubt we have the horses to do it. I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Last week, Arab had OTA (organized team activity) events at Muscle Shoals and at home against Cullman. Another scheduled OTA, against Buckhorn, was rained out.
Since practive begins Monday, there won’t be anymore OTAs.
As for the turf, Gameday president Daniel Ruggiero has been confident since work began that his crews would have the field ready by the season opener. A lot of rain this summer caused some concern, even as late as last week when actual turf installation began.
The middle strip at the 50-yard line was installed late last week before a blown compressor halted work. The installation crew got back on pace over the weekend and had the majority of the field covered by mid-day Monday.
Ruggiero remains optimistic the field will be ready within a couple of weeks.