The end of April always means that spring football practices are opening. Although schools in Alabama may practice anytime the second semester, almost everyone now works at the end of the school year.
According to AHSAA rules, teams must spend three days conditioning in shorts/helmets without teaching football skills unless they are coming immediately from another sport. Schools then have 10 days to practice over a 15 day period. Rules differ from state to state on spring practice. Florida schools practice 2 days in shorts, 3 days in shells and then have 15 days to practice in pads. Their 20 day practice period could not begin until April 24th this year.
Spring practice can be a difficult adventure, particularly at smaller schools. Spring sports are wrapping up, but state playoffs are going on and players are finishing with those teams. It can be difficult when a team’s first quarterback is still playing baseball and the second stringer is running track. At times a coach may anticipate a battle for the running back spot but can’t get them at practice long enough for the competition to take place.
Spring training can be a great time to slow the pace and teach extra fundamentals or experiment with a new play or defensive look. It gives coaches an opportunity to get some young guys on video or try a veteran at another position. Some coaches complain about the short number of days while others don’t use all of their allotted practices. Some teams practice only every other day while some may practice every day, including on Saturday. Extended summer practice and an absence of players who are participating in spring sports have changed some attitudes about spring training over the past few years.
Russellville coach Mark Heaton concentrates on getting his incoming ninth graders acclimated to being a part of the varsity football team. “We can bring them along more slowly in regards to practice schedules, practice tempo, relationships and so on,” he says. “We don’t have the pressure of the season upon us.” Andalusia coach Trent Taylor agrees that spring practice is an excellent time to evaluate new and younger players. “We want to see which of those guys have matured and can get on the field for us, “ he says.
Teams like to finish the spring with some kind of game to reward the players. Some play a whole game, but may agree with their opponent to play junior varsity players for a quarter or half of the game. Coach Heaton prefers to play a game, mostly to give his players something to look forward to at the end of practice. “ It is a great way to get your guys on film. Some players are just not a great practice guy but much better when the lights come on against competition. “ Some squads play a half against two teams. Others choose to play an intra squad game. Coach Taylor prefers to divide his team up and keep it in house. “It allows me to control the number of reps everyone gets and I can make sure that everyone gets an opportunity,” he says. “I don’t want to spend the time we have preparing for a game, and I can always make sure that WE win if we scrimmage our self.”
One thing is certain. The promise of a better season than last year looms in front of all football teams in Alabama, regardless of how they look at spring practice. And every team is undefeated when spring training begins.