Temperatures had a hint of fall in the air Monday – fitting for the first official football practice of the 2018 season.
Approximately 55 players hit the practice field in helmets and shoulder pads for Coffee County Central’s Red Raiders Monday (July 23), joining the hundreds of other schools across the state for the first day of practice in pads. Coffee County has three weeks of preseason practice, before beginning game-week preparations to host Franklin County for the season opener on Aug. 17.
“The kids were out there working hard and doing what they needed to do today,” said CHS head coach Ryan Sulkowski. “We didn’t do a lot of hitting today, but we plan to turn that up over the next couple of days.”
Sulkowski admits that his team struggled with open field tackling last year. He plans to adjust the practice schedule this summer to include more hitting and full-body contact through the preseason in an effort to limit missed tackles early this season.
“Looking back on last season, we really need to improve our tackling,” said Sulkowski. “I’ve always been an upper-body type of guy in practice. But we are going to focus on tackling, more live hitting in practice. Depth has been an issue before, and it still can be, but we have to be prepared and work on being more physical.”
The obvious question
Standout Alontae Taylor graduated following the 2017 season, leaving with rushing records in hand and a glaring hole in the Raider offensive attack.
With Taylor gone and Colton Prater, who also took significant snaps at quarterback in 2017, also gradu-ated, the Raiders will be breaking in an entire new offensive backfield in 2018.
Sophomore quarterback Matthew Pittman is picking up the majority of snaps under center, with senior Andrew Mahaffey also getting work as the signal caller. But Mahaffey will be used often at tailback, leaving Pittman as the favorite to run the offense to start the season.
“They are kind of 1A and 1B at quarterback right now,” explained Sulkowski. “We will monitor their reps a good bit.”
Tanner Hulvey and Marshall Haney will join Mahaffey in the backfield, forming with Sulkowksi hopes is backfield depth like the Raiders haven’t seen in several years.
“They all three play on defense, as well, so we want to keep these guys fresh the best we can. We may use three different backs the first three series and whoever has the hot hand might get more carries and the same thing goes in the secondary for them.”
Sulkowski said the Raiders will be a run first team – evidence by the option looks they were practicing on Monday.
“We want to be a physical, run first, stop the run first type of football team,” he said.
Coffee County was scheduled to host Grundy County at 5:30 p.m. Friday (July 27) at the Raider practice facility for a scrimmage. However, at press time those plans were up in the air with a coaching change taking place at Grundy County over the past week.
“We aren’t sure right now if that is still going to happen. If it doesn’t, we will look to add something – either a scrimmage or a practice date with another team before the season. Our guys are ready to hit someone else besides their teammates.”
Coffee County hosts Franklin County at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17 to open the season.