FIRST FRIDAY

Aug. 01, 2014 @ 09:40 PM

State champs don’t make excuses.

They make adjustments.

So when Mother Nature audibled and blitzed with all that rain Friday, the reigning state 3-A champion Southern Spartans turned the basketball gym at their school into an indoor practice facility.

There was no turf to dig in with cleats, just a wooden floor for squeaky sneaks.

“Guess what -- we’re still going to practice,” first-year Southern head coach Darius Robinson told the Spartans before they got after it.

It was Aug. 1, the first day high school teams in this state were allowed to practice, and Southern had a title to defend.

Southern assistant coach Randy Grissom moved his arms to the left, and the guys in his group shuffled left. Grissom motioned right, and the guys went right.

Not good enough, according to Southern wide receivers coach Toryeon Hester: “Do not walk in drills! Do not walk in drills!”

Adrian Jones was the head coach when Southern won it all last season. On Friday, he was at N.C. Central. Jones coaches the running backs at NCCU, his alma mater.

In fact, Southern is Jones’ alma mater, too, but now the overall responsibility of its football team belongs to Robinson, who kept checking a stopwatch he was clutching to make sure everything was on point. 

All of this is about timing and following directions, things that ideally will come together by Aug. 7, the first day players are allowed to strap it up and hit.

So it was critical for teams to get to work Friday in spite of the rain.

State rules stipulate that the first five days of practice are to be used solely for physical conditioning. Sprints, all manner of stretching and things like that are OK, and guys can knock the stuffing out of tackling dummies; they just can’t hit each other. Any work done over the summer to get in shape doesn’t count. It’s about safety, according to the N.C. High School Athletic Association.

Helmets may be worn on the first two days of practice. Shoulder pads may be added on days 3, 4 and 5. 

And on the sixth day: POW!

At Riverside High, first-year head coach Chris Howell took the place of David Hackney, who is an assistant principal at Southern. The Pirates were able to practice outside Friday, beating the rain by working out in the morning.

“We got some good work,” Howell said.

Hackney last season returned Riverside to the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Howell understands the expectation that comes with that.

“It’s always a little pressure,” Howell said.

Not only is Hackney gone, but so is highly productive running back Joel Evans and six of the team’s top offensive linemen who blocked for that guy.

“Everybody thought it was just him running the ball,” Howell said. “We’re kind of starting from scratch on that side of the ball.”

Rain kept Hillside’s and Jordan’s teams off the field, as well as the football squad at Kestrel Heights, a Durham charter school. Those players worked out indoors.

Jordan coach LaDwaun Harrison had his players lifting weights and studying film Friday. It wasn’t the ideal first day of practice, but it was what it was, he said.

“You just roll with it and make it happen,” Harrison said.

Since no hitting is allowed right now, these first days of practice are times for teaching, so guys actually can be just as productive on gym floors as they can be on football fields, Harrison said.

“Your technique is your technique,” Harrison said. “You can master your technique in your living room, if you want to. It’s about not making excuses.”

Yeah, but nothing replaces football players being able to get in touch with nature, Northern coach R.J. Wilson said. Doing football in basketball gyms is OK, but only up to a certain point, he said.

“You can be productive,” Wilson offered. “(But) nothing will replace that grass.”