Playing your first regular season football game four days after the start of classes and five days into practice is hardly the optimum time frame for coaches and players to prepare for an opponent which already has two games under its belt and has been on the field for more than a month.
That would have been the scenario for the Camden Military Academy football team, which is scheduled to travel to Dixie tonight for their season opener, in the past. Given the fact that CMA opened its doors for the 2017-18 academic year on Monday, taking on a 1-1 Green Hornets squad so quickly into the year would have been a tall order for Will Rice’s Spartans.
With that tight slate in mind, the CMA administration opened the barracks one week early for those young men who would like to play football. When two-a-day camp started last week, some 48 Spartans made their way to the schools’ east Camden campus. When the rest of the corps of cadets arrived for class on Monday, that figure swelled to 53 players with five newcomers making their way onto the practice field. “It’s a good thing to have,” Rice said of his team’s bump in the number of players on the roster.
While still having to make up for lost time in going against a Dixie squad which has been practicing since July 28, Rice said he is grateful to have had the extra week of work. It somewhat levels the playing field for the Spartans who used the additional week of workouts --- without having to worry about classes --- to get a head start on their usual late beginning to practice.
“We had to do that,” Rice said of the preseason camp, “because if we didn’t, we would have been playing this game with one week of practice.
“This was the first time that we’ve done this and it helped us a lot. Regardless of what happens (Friday), we’re miles ahead of where we were at this time last year as far as putting things in and teamwork.”
The Spartans topped the Carolina Gladiators in their final game of a year ago to end a 1-7 season. Rice said having the players live in the same barracks for a week without other distractions was a bonding experience for the players as well as for the coaching staff. “We did a lot of team-building stuff. I think it worked out well,” he said.
The addition of five days of football-only focus allowed the Spartans to put in their offensive and defensive game plans while allowing the newcomers to campus to begin the adjustment period which comes when leaving home for the first time.
As far as football goes, though, Rice said his team is light years ahead of where it would have been as they head into tonight’s contest thanks to the camp.
“In those five days, we had 10 practices,” he said. “I’m not saying that we’re going to be in condition like we would be had we started practice on Aug. 1 (like the public schools) but we’ll be in better shape than we have been this early in the season.
“We were also able to go over more details. Our special teams should be better off from having the camp. I just think that we’re further along than we have been.”
This current edition of the Spartans features good mix of returning varsity players, those who will make their way up from the junior varsity along with a group of new arrivals to the school. The end result is a team which has not only grown in terms of numbers but has size --- especially along the front lines --- to spare with several players checking in at 6-foot-3 and weighing in excess of 230 pounds being on the squad.
Rice said given his team’s numbers and depth, it will allow the Spartans to do more on both sides of the ball. Again, though, CMA will play to its strengths.
“We always adapt to our players’ strengths,” he said. “We’re going to do some similar things to what we did last year, scheme-wise. We want to get our athletes in space and have them make plays.”
The Spartans should be solid up front with the return of offensive lineman Christian Perpignand. Several former junior varsity players will also help on the front line including Sirr Green and David Long, who will be the starting center. James Oribhabor, who was called up to the varsity in the second half of last season, will become a full-time starter on the defensive line along while holdovers William Robinson and Daylen Clark will see time in the defensive secondary with Clark seeing time on offense.
“We have a nice little core that we can build around,” Rice said of those players who are familiar with the CMA system.
The quarterback position will feature Woodson Alexander and Harrison Montgomery splitting time under center until one player establishes himself as the starter. In either instance, they will have a steady receiver in returning wide out Kyle Rhodes.
The skill positions on offense, Rice said, are still in flux and will be sorted out as the season goes along.
“Running back is going to be by committee and at quarterback, we have two players who will play Friday night. One’s a better passer and one is a better runner. We will play them both (tonight) and try to settle on a starter by the second game. Right now, it’s 1A and 1B,” he said.
Dixie will pose problems for CMA not only due to this being the Green Hornets’ third game of the season but due to a large group of starters who returned to the fold for a Vic Hollis-coached team which went 7-5 last season and advanced into the second round of the class A state playoffs.
Dixie opened its season by blanking AA Ware Shoals, 48-0, before coming out on the short end of a 28-17 decision against Crescent a week ago.
Rice said the Due West squad has talent in all areas, including at the top of the ladder.
“They run the same schemes as they did last year,” he said, “but they are so much better than they were last year. Coach Lollis does a great job up there. When we looked at tape of them from this year, they are miles ahead of where they were at this time last year. They’re so much better and smoother at running that Wing-T.”
Defensively, Dixie has lined up in a 4-3 look but with the ability to switch to a five-man front, on occasion.
Rice said his team has a little more in its offensive package for this game than they did when the Spartans faced Dixie a year ago.
“It’s vanilla but we’ve gotten more reps,” he said of having the extra week of practice. “We’ll build on it as we go through the season.
“As for our defense, you have to change. In high school, one week you’ll see the spread and the next week you could see the Wing-T. We’ll adjust depending on who we’re playing.”
Rice said that he can see his team’s personnel changing from game one to week two. He said at this early stage in the season and without the benefit of scrimmage games, not all spots are locked down. “Just because somebody starts game one does not mean that he’s going to be there the whole year,” he said.
As he looks forward to this opening contest, Rice said he is anxious to see how his players respond once the lights are turned on.
“We realize that they’ve been working out and practicing all summer and that we’re behind the 8-ball. But we’ll go up there, get some experience, chalk it up and get ready for the next game,” he said.
“We’re going to make mistakes out there. We know teams have had five or six scrimmages and games but we’ll learn from our mistakes and we’ll see what kind of team we’re going to have.”