By Ethan Willis, staff writer
Thursday was about answering some questions for the Central High School Red Raider football team.
CHS traveled to Cookeville to compete in six 7-on-7 passing games in a showcase of what the skill players have learned under first-year head coach Ryan Sulkowski.
“I think it went well,” Sulkowski said. “It’s the first time we’ve competed against any other program since the Tullahoma game last [October].”
“Walking out here, we wanted to answer a few questions heading into the season,” Sulkowski added. “We’re very vanilla, very basic offensively and a little more complex defensively. We found some answers, but we also found some areas that we need to improve greatly on. We didn’t keep score of any games today because that’s not what it’s about. It was a workday out here.”
In seven-on-seven matches, team’s use the time to work on route running, timing and simply pitching-and-catching the football in 30-minutes games on a 40-yard section of the field. The mini-games are played in shorts and helmets. Full padded practices are not permitted per TSSAA rule until Monday.
“Seven-on-seven stuff is, best way of putting it, garbage because you have the teams that practice just for seven-on-seven when you don’t have D-linemen breathing down your neck and blitzing backers coming at you,” Sulkowski said. “We ran our defense and our offense and we didn’t tell or make it to throw one-yard routes to a tight end just to turn around. That’s not realistic in a game of football. You get some coaches that want to do that, but that’s not us. We’re going to run the stuff that we do that helps us on a Friday night. I think it went well overall, though.”
Red Raider senior quarterback Jimmy Hollandsworth, who picked up a heavy amount of reps under center Thursday along with sophomore Grant Sadler, left the day with confidence.
“We looked good for only having a few passing concepts in,” said Hollandsworth. “We were seeing where kids fit in, who can play and who can’t. We answered a lot of questions Thursday. I had a pretty solid outing on the day, but I need to improve my footwork and timing. Our receivers are also looking better than they did in the spring.”
Sulkowski left the playday with a better understanding of what his team needs to work on as real games approach in less than one month.
“We just need to polish some of the things that we do,” Sulkowski said. “Especially offensively with receivers understanding alignments and pre-snap alignments, quarterbacks with their reads, making sure they’re choosing the correct side when we make them read a half-field. Defensively, it’s just individual work. These kids have never done the stuff that we’re doing, so repetition is the best thing. We’ll get there. We have plenty of time to practice.
The Raiders begin practicing in full pads Monday. The first regular season game is Aug. 22 at Battle Ground Academy. The Raiders host Rhea County at 7 p.m. Aug. 29.