How I spent my summer vacation: Area football teams ramp up conditioning as season nears

Mountaineer defensive back Matt Plummer, right, makes his way upfield with a pick at the Maryville College 7-on-7 Perimeter Passing Day last Saturday.

Photo by Jenifer Clark

Mountaineer defensive back Matt Plummer, right, makes his way upfield with a pick at the Maryville College 7-on-7 Perimeter Passing Day last Saturday.

William Blount freshman Brandon Tipton makes the grab at Honaker Field.

Photo by Jenifer Clark

William Blount freshman Brandon Tipton makes the grab at Honaker Field.

With the completion of the BlueCross Bowls back in December, the seemingly endless offseason officially began for Blount County’s four football programs.

Have no fear. The wait is almost over.

With the third weekend in August serving as opening week for Alcoa, Heritage, Maryville and William Blount, the offseason has been reduced to a measly four weeks. Teams from all four schools have stepped up the time, effort and intensity in conditioning. Each program has successes from last year that can be built on, so let’s take a close look at how each high school is structuring their off season provisions.

For the Governors of William Blount, the first part of the summer dealt solely with improving both strength and conditioning.

“Before the dead period, the players came in five days a week,” Governor coach David Gregory said. “We had a weight workout with conditioning three days a week, with the other two days consisting of speed plyometrics work dealing with speed and agility.”

The schedule was in place for William Blount until the last week of June, signaling the start of the dead period. Governor quarterback Hunter Saunders took advantage of the down time to familiarize himself with his new position after switching from receiver.

“During the dead period, a few of us went to work out, and, when we were finished, the receivers and myself would stay and throw a little bit,” Saunders said. “I also went over to one of my receiver’s house, and we went over routes a few times a week.”

While also serving as a key component for William Blount’s baseball team, Saunders used the dead period to completely change his focus from the diamond to the gridiron.

“I got outside and worked a lot on actually throwing,” he said. “I’ve been throwing like it was baseball, so I focused on my form and getting my elbow higher up. In addition, I did speed training to work on my foot work.”

Once the dead period ended July 9, William Blount hit the ground running, with practices becoming more football focused.

“When we come back from dead period, it’s anything you want to do minus pads,” Gregory said. “It’s basically practice with shorts.”

“It’s helping us in our passing game,” Saunders said. “It’s helping me focus on reading the defenses a little better and learning my receivers and what situations they are best in.”

Overall, the outlook at the Governor camp is promising for 2011. Key departures from last season are being replaced by experienced upper classmen.

“If we can win the games we’re supposed to and also win some games that some people might not think we should, then that will build some confidence,” Gregory said. “As long as we keep the players in that mindset, I like our chances.”

Heritage’s Mountaineers kept the agenda pretty straightforward in the early parts of the summer.

“Up until the dead period begins, we got the guys in there five days a week, focusing on your basics,” Heritage coach Brint Russel said. “We got in the weight room three days a week and conditioned the other two.”

A Mountaineer who stood out during the dead period was senior wide receiver Chase Everett.

“Our strength coach gave me a schedule of stuff I needed to do, and I went with some guys to various workout places throughout Maryville,” he said. “We also went out to local middle school fields and tracks and ran.

“If you don’t do anything over dead period and are lazy, then you risk everything you worked for. You really are letting the team down in the long run because you aren’t getting any better in the two weeks you have.”

When the dead period concluded, the Mountaineers began their own version of two-a-days, combining a morning workout with evening events, including passing leagues. Russell said it gives him a good idea of what his team is going to look like come official start of practice in pads on Aug. 1. It also affords the chance to evaluate a new starter at quarterback.

“We are looking for Jake Olvey to step up big this year at quarterback,” Russell said. “He has a strong arm and a good grasp of the offense. He knows the playbook well and is a solid leader. Justin Newman will also be beneficial to us this year. He provides a good running threat from the quarterback position.”

Confidence is high for the Mountaineers, something that hasn’t always been the case in past years, Everett said.

“Everybody has to buy into what our coaches tell us to do,” he said. “If we work hard every single day, then usually good things will come.”

Editor’s note: With this first installment, Blount Today takes a look at how Blount County’s four high school programs have been spending their summer vacations. This week, we check in on the Heritage Mountaineers and William Blount Governors.

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