Smitty Grider, head coach of the new Dothan Wolves football program, and his staff wanted to send a message to the historic new team Monday.
With just 19 days before the inaugural opener versus Clay-Chalkville, the Wolves had to ramp up the practice intensity level.
“ It is no longer summer workouts – it's fall camp,” Grider said Monday night after the first official day of preseason practice for the Wolves at their campus facility.
As mandated by the Alabama High School Athletic Association, all AHSAA teams in the state were able to hold official first practices for the season on Monday, though a lot of work is now allowed in the summer.
The Wolves held two practices Monday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Both were about two-and-a-half hours in length.
“ It was more about re-establishing the tempo we want to practice at and how we want to move in between periods and drills, our pace of practice and understanding that that it is no longer summer workouts – it's fall camp,” Grider said of the focus of the two practices.
“ Sometimes with the way we can work all summer now, the kids don’t see the distinction between the two. The intensity level of the players and coaches should ramp up now that it is fall camp. So we tried to establish that and how we want to practice.”
The Wolves coach, who enters his 16 th year as a head coach at his fifth school, said the players seemed to latch on to the intensity level theme.
“ We got two really good practices in,” Grider said. “To be perfectly honest with you, it was as good a first day as I have had. The kids were excited. They practiced at a high tempo. We are further along than we thought we were. It was a great first day.” The work, according to Grider, mostly focused on zone runs and the quick passing game on offense, base work in the defense and on punt and punt returns in the kicking game.
With the opening of school still several weeks away, Grider stressed it was important for his players to take advantage of every practice, especially since the Wolves open with two top six teams in the state, No. 4 Clay-Chalkville and No. 6 Wetumpka, both state semifinal teams from a year ago.
“ When you miss now, it directly affects your playing time in the first game,” Grider said. “We are two-three deep at every spot, so if you are not here, we will just move somebody in your spot and keep going. You are losing reps and an opportunity to earn a starting spot.
“ We had great attendance today. We didn’t have anybody out that wasn’t accounted for.”
There were plenty of bright spots at the two practices, said the Wolves’ head coach.
“ The quarterback play was good with both of our quarterbacks,” Grider said, referring to Jamal Lane and Bauer Sharp. “The offensive line has really progressed. The biggest improvement we have made from spring to now is probably in the secondary. Those guys have really gotten a lot better.
“ We feel we are on the right track. Now we still have a lot to do before we play them (first two opponents).”
Dothan conducted its two practices in mostly mild conditions, helping the players and coaches.
“ We were blessed,” Grider said about the weather. “The morning was actually worse than the afternoon. It started off overcast this morning, but it was humid then the sun popped out and it started baking the dew off the ground and it got pretty hot.
“ This afternoon, it stayed overcast the entire practice and we had a nice breeze, so we were real fortunate this afternoon plus the rain stayed away.”
With the season opener set for 3 p.m., Grider said Dothan will practice a lot in the afternoon to get acclimated with weather at that time of day.
“ Usually in fall camp if we are not in school, I will go in the morning to avoid some of the heat because we play at night, but with us going at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we felt like we needed to practice during that time because we only have three weeks (to get ready),” Grider said. “We won’t be in school but four days when we play. We will have an afternoon practice every day and on two-a-days, we will have a morning practice.”
Since school won’t start until Aug. 20, Grider said the Wolves will get a lot of practice time in before the season starts. They open on Saturday, Aug. 24 against Clay-Chalkville as part of the Go Gold Bowl charity doubleheader at Thompson High School.
“ We will have four two a-days practices, so we will gain four days on the field because most people aren’t able to do any (two-a-days with school starting),” Grider said. “We will get four extra practices on other people.”
That, however, won’t be an advantage in the opener as Clay-Chalkville, as part of the Jefferson County School system, doesn’t start school until after the game on Aug. 27.