Pirates line up in character formation
Riverside coach David Hackney outsmarted the football gods with an early morning practice on Thursday.
The threatening sky signaled rain, although Hackney said that the 8 a.m. session was about avoiding a blitz from the heat.
Both the rain and sun held off for the Pirates, who used the official start date for fall sports among teams in the N.C. High School Athletic Association to go deeper in their study of healthy football habits.
NCHSAA policy prevents football players from contact drills during the first five days of practice, which are to be used for physical conditioning.
There’s nothing in the rule book, though, that keeps guys from knocking the stuffing out of tackling dummies, and the Pirates were popping pads on a blocking sled.
But the key thing out of all that occurred both on the field and in the weight room was a principle that kindergarten teachers will emphasize in a few weeks when the traditional school year starts — listening.
That skill apparently is harder than it sounds, and it’s something that Riverside senior receiver Chris Abraham said the Pirates worked on during a three-day camp.
“This season, what’s going to make us come together and have a better season is communication,” Abraham said. “Talking as a team and just listening to details.”
The art of listening proved tough to master when Hackney specifically told a younger player to run sprints in between two older ones. The younger kid failed to carry out the instruction, and it cost the entire team a series of pushups for punishment.
The younger player had his lips poked out, pouting, while the experienced players told him to get his act together. After practice, he apologized to Hackney for his bad form.
That’s a sign that the culture of football is changing for the better at Riverside, senior defensive back Cameron Roane said.
“That’s exactly what it’s going to take,” Roane said. “We can’t let these boys slack off one time. We did that last year, and the result showed.”
The result was a 1-9 season with the lone win coming in the last game of the year, a 40-0 blowout of Jordan.
Riverside’s first game this season is Aug. 23 at Chapel Hill.
Chapel Hill coach Issac Marsh earlier this week said his Tigers have a group of seniors who, quite frankly, are accustomed to winning.
The Pirates can’t say that, but Hackney, entering his third season as Riverside’s head coach, said it is evident that his guys are craving success.
“Our hunger is there,” Hackney said. “We just want to win, and we’re working like we want to win.”
The game must be played the right way, Riverside defensive coordinator Chris Howell said to a group of junior varsity players.
“This your first year playing football?” Howell asked one player who said he was, in fact, a novice. “That’s what I thought.”
Howell told the group that he wasn’t fussing, just explaining how things should be done.
Hackney also spent a good deal of time on Day 1 with the junior varsity.
“That’s the future of our program, and being that that’s the future of our program, we have to teach them the nuts and bolts of being high school football players,” Hackney said. “We have a lot of kids who come from middle school who didn’t play in middle school. They were on the team, but they didn’t get a lot of time. So we have decided that we’re going to take the approach that we’re going to teach our guys the fundamentals of the game, teach them how to play the game of football.”
Hackney was hobbling around the field with a medical boot on his left foot, necessitated by a stress fracture from his morning runs. He said the device keeps him from swiftly getting into his players’ business when they mess up, but he eventually arrives and makes his point.
The coach said he is supposed to wear the bulky boot for several more weeks but insisted that he won’t be in it when it’s time to do business with Chapel Hill, a game already on the minds of his players.
“One, two, three — beat Chapel Hill!” the Pirates hollered at the end of practice.