August 18, 2010 10:06:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
Leroy Gregg has coached high school football teams that have gone through a season without any injuries.
Gregg hopes he has that same good fortune this season.
With only 17 players on his roster, the third-year Oak Hill Academy coach knows the 2010 campaign will be challenging. After two solid showings in the preseason, Gregg and the Raiders will make their debut at 7 p.m. Friday when they play host to Heritage Academy.
Oak Hill Academy finished just 3-8 last season but still advanced to the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools AA playoffs.
This year, Gregg said a rigorous offseason conditioning plan has helped put his players in position for a weekly marathon.
"We worked harder in the summer here with our players than we did in Amory, this summer particularly," said Gregg, a longtime assistant coach at Aberdeen and Amory high schools. "It was the most grueling preparation and workout summer that I have ever seen kids go through."
Gregg said the Raiders needed to work at that level because they knew the team wasn''t going to be blessed with depth. But the team hasn''t let its roster size slow it down. Instead, Gregg said his players are motivated and are focused on having a successful season.
Gregg said they showed that mind-set in the summer, working three days for an hour and a half a day on a blend of training in the weight room and conditioning. He said the team typically works out four days a week but it was changed to build in more rest and recovery time. The Raiders mixed and matches workouts, running, pulling and pushing weight sleds, working with harnesses, and testing themselves with other biometric exercises.
Gregg said he saw the benefit of that work in the team''s two preseason scrimmages. The first, against Immanuel Christian, featured 64 snaps, alternating between 10 on offense and 10 on defense. The second, a jamboree at Manchester Academy that featured 25-minute games against Carroll Academy and Hillcrest Academy, saw the Raiders in "outstanding" physical condition, according to Gregg.
"We have been thrilled by what we have seen competition wise," Gregg said. "Halfway into our second game at Manchester on Friday we were tired but we weren''t as tired as the other team, and that was their first game, and our kids knew it."
Gregg credits assistant coach Carl Middleton for designing a workout regimen that has prepared the players. Earlier this year, many of the players on the team competed in the track and field team to build their conditioning for football season. The time spent training in the 400 or 800 meters or in the hurdles will be well spent because Gregg said many of those players likely won''t step off the field until the game is over. Some players might relish that opportunity, but the true test of their effectiveness will come into the third and fourth quarters when the game will be decided.
Gregg isn''t lowering his expectations or driving the Raiders any easier in practice, either. He said he always will take a "glass half full," and he wants his players to have the confidence they can play with anyone.
In fact, Gregg said the team''s two and a half hour practices have gone smoothly. He said the Raiders don''t do as many repetitions because with so few players everyone is going to get their share of work. He also said junior high students who come to watch practices and coaches usually get some work, too.
"We have to make do the best we can," Gregg said. "We do a lot of throwing on air or throwing to one side. If we''re throwing, we do three-on-three or two-on-two to one side."
Gregg admits he might have to call an unconventional timeout here or there to give his players a rest, but he is confident with how things look entering the season. He said he hasn''t had to encourage any of his players to work hard in practice because the message has been sent and the Raiders are eager to carry it out.
"They all want to play, and they all want to help," Gregg said. "They bought into what it is going to take," Gregg said. "We''re going to have to wait and see where we are at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. That''s where the numbers play a difference if they''re going to play a difference. Seventeen is 17. We''re going to build in rest where we can."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.