HIGH School football teams in Georgia will move to full-pad practices Friday and, for that, local coaches are thankful.
Jackson County, Jefferson and East Jackson have spent the summer playing in 7-on-7 pad-less scrimmages and conducting voluntary workouts.
“They’re kind of tired of that,” Jackson County coach Benji Harrison said of his players. “They’re ready to start hitting and getting to working on real football. The kids are excited. The coaches are excited. It’s about here.”
While 7-on-7s serve a purpose, there’s only so much a team can gain in very limited contact scrimmages.
“I know the big guys are excited about putting the pads on and getting back to the basics with one-on-one’s and the inside drills and the things that make us who we are,” Jefferson coach Ben Hall said.
Teams officially returned to the practice field this past Friday but in a limited capacity with the GHSA’s five-day mandated acclimated phase.
While it’s not full-contact football, it does allow teams to build on what they started implementing in the offseason.
“It’s good to be back out there,” East Jackson coach Gary Hughes said. “It’s kind of a deal where you can finally run through some things nationally. Smith said he went up against the no. 10-rated defensive back in the country “about five or six times” and caught all passes thrown his way.
Then, in 7-on-7 competition, Smith’s team faced a squad featuring high school All-Americans at cornerback and safety.
“We actually beat them in the seven-on-seven,” said Smith, who has also been invited to the Marcus Dixon McInerney High School All-American Bowl Dec. 31 to Jan. 3 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Smith finished the showcase rated among the top 20 receivers at Top Gun. Over 50 receivers attended the showcase, according to Smith.
Playing against other talented athletes certainly left an impression on Smith.
“Some of the things that I learned was the importance of confidence and just playing with swagger — just have fun when you’re playing and everything else will just take care of itself,” he said.
Athletes at the showcase were also instructed by former NFL stars like Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, and coaches such as Jim McNally (offensive line), Jeff Rutledge (quarterbacks), Ray Buchanan (defensive backs) and Charlie Collins (wide receiver).
“It was just a fun experience to learn and become better,” Smith said.
Now Smith — who said he didn’t accumulate a lot of stats last year at Sandy Creek —looks forward to his senior season at Jackson County, particularly playing in coach Benji Harrison’s offense.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “The offense is great, running the no-huddle. It’s very fun. It’s explosive, and also with Jacob Lewis at quarterback, he’s a great talent.”
He’s also excited about the other side of the ball as well as the Panthers seek their third consecutive trip to the state playoffs.
“Our defense is looking very, very good this year as well,” Smith said.