The 28th Annual Sampson County Football Jamboree is slated for next Friday night, Aug. 10, at Clinton High School. With that date quickly approaching, area football teams kicked off official practices this past week. Summer work outs have already been ongoing but with the official start of the season now underway, coaches will truly be able to get down to the nuts and bolts of their teams. Across the county, several first year head coaches will be looking to lead their teams to success.
Starting at Midway, new head coach Cory Barnes has touted that the Raiders will have an entirely new look this upcoming season, particularly on the offensive front. Midway has been utilizing the evening times for their practice sessions where Barnes said that offensively his team has been working on a spread attack and using an option run-pass combo to control tempo. He emphasized that the Raiders have been practicing at an up-tempo pace, stating that it’s easier to slow down the flow than to speed it up. Barnes emphasized that this seasons team is young with the core of the team consisting of mainly juniors and sophomores. Youth doesn’t worry the coach, however. “
“The kids are smart and are picking up what we’re emphasizing. We’ve running some of the same stuff since spring workouts and they’re doing a good job of adjusting,” Barnes stated.
Looking ahead at the jamboree, Barnes is expecting quite the challenge.
“Some of the teams in this county are elite level football and I expect to see a mix of different things from all four of the schools we’ll face.”
He also said that one of his main priorities is getting out injury free.
Over in Newton Grove, the Hobbton Wildcats are also embracing a new beginning under first year head coach Joe Salas. Much like his counterpart at Midway, Salas has also promised a new offensive scheme for the Wildcats this upcoming season.
“Our strengths include a group of fantastic guys with a good work ethic. They bust their butts and they are coachable. They want to get better,” Salas says. The Wildcats currently have 32 players. “I’m super proud. Coach (Steve) Mallard tells me our numbers are about what they were last year. But, the difference is we have 30-plus guys that are super dedicated. They have worked all summer and that’s something that hasn’t been done in forever. They came in during July and lifted weights. We have worked on passing and we practiced 7 on 7 drills. They are a super dedicated bunch. Hard work pays off,” he concluded.
Hobbton will participate in a scrimmage next Wednesday at C.B. Aycock.
Down Highway 701 to Clinton High School, the Dark Horses are also getting acquainted with new head coach Cory Johnson. Johnson said that so far practice has been well and turnout has been even better. “We’ve had some new faces this week that we have not seen all summer. Yesterday, we had about 62 kids we were working with which is pretty good numbers,” he said. “As far as practice, I feel like we are practicing well and the kids are getting the structure of what we want. They’re getting the flow of practices and.”
Defensive Coordinator Dennis McFadden echoed those sentiments, saying the kids have brought a willingness and want-to. Johnson expressed that the Dark Horses are not thinking about anyone else at this moment and that they are only focusing on themselves and remaining time efficient in practice. “We’re not worried about any other team we play. We’re focusing on the Clinton Dark Horses and stepping one step forward and putting their best effort at practice everyday.”
The Dark Horses emphasis this season is going to be a fast and physical approach and rely on a sound defense.
Down the road at Union, the Spartans are the only school in the county that will feature some sort of normalcy. Head Coach Doug Burley is back on the sidelines once again, looking to build from last years effort. After a successful 8-5 campaign in 2016, the Spartans 2017 output was down a little with a 3-8 finish. Union will participate in the Jamboree on Friday before opening up their 2018 season on Aug. 17 against Midway.
Rounding out the trip across the Sampson County brings comes the final stop at Lakewood, where new Leopards Coach Barrett Sloan is preparing to get the new season underway.
Sloan began by disclosing the areas the Leopards are working on during practice.
“Timing between our mesh points and routes, getting stronger through conditioning, and working on our alignments and coverages, are our main focus points during the preseason,” he said.
“We don’t have numbers like other schools have, so we have to condition our guys to be hard, tough, and physical.”
Sloan, facing the challenge of replacing 15 seniors who won 39 games, says, “I love Dabo Swinney’s saying that ‘It’s not about what you lose, it’s about what you got’.” Looking to sustain the success of James Lewis, Sloan says, “It isn’t easy to follow up Coach Lewis.”
When asked what prepares him for this moment, Sloan remarked; “I’ve been in a football household my entire life. I’ve seen football from the coach and the player standpoint, which will help me develop great relationships with my players.”
When asked some mentors of the mentors who have helped him transition to head coach, it’s no surprise he answered; “My dad,” referring to Midway legend Tommy Sloan. “He has been a tremendous help to me alongside my great Lakewood High School administrators. I’m just fired up to see my players play some football.”
Lakewood opens up the 2018 season on Aug. 17 with a road game at Pender.