Football practice continued last week at Briarwood Academy as the temperatures reached sizzling digits close to 100 degrees.
As a result of these hot and humid temperatures, Briarwood Coach Jimmy Barnett and his staff ran field practice from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and then classroom sessions from 1-2 p.m. The afternoon practice sessions were held in tree shade to protect players from the excessive heat.
All this extensive practice is gearing the 2006 Briarwood Buccaneers toward their opening game of the season, which is set for Thursday night, Aug. 31, against the Edmund Burke Academy Spartans in Waynesboro. Game time will be 7:30 p.m.
"This will be a great opening game for both teams," Coach Barnett said. "State officials have allowed us to play this game on Aug. 31, and in turn, this game will be the first high school football contest in the state of Georgia for the 2006 year."
Although EBA has moved out of Briarwood's region, there's still a great rivalry between the two teams, Coach Barnett said.
"This opening game setup will hopefully become an annual tradition, with both teams playing for a special trophy," he said. "The contest between both of these schools will probably be named é─˛The Backyard Battle.' The matchup between Briarwood and Edmund Burke could easily be compared to the rivalries such as Washington-Wilkes vs. Lincoln County and Warrenton vs. Thomson."
The Bucs' 2006 campaign will be in the North Division of their region. Other North Division teams include Gatewood, Brentwood, Pinecrest Academy of Cumming and Westminster Christian of Athens. The Buccaneers will also play teams such as Thomas Jefferson Academy, Robert Toombs Academy and John Milledge early in the year.
"This year's schedule will be the toughest I have ever faced, bar none," Coach Barnett said. "We will be playing a couple of new schools in our region, along with some old rivalries outside of our region."
The main focus of last week's practice sessions for the Buccaneers was to learn new blocking schemes that will be used in their passing attack this year.
"When a team goes to a passing game, the blocking techniques are very different, and that's what we worked on strictly last week," Coach Barnett said. "We are big and quick, with a couple of guys that weigh around 215-220. They will be there blocking for the quarterback so he can set up for the pass."
During this past summer, Coach Barnett attended a lot of classes and clinics on passing.
He hopes to pass on some of the lessons he learned.
"We have the best group of skilled people this year on our roster that we have ever had," he said. "We have 12 good receivers, and this will enable us to throw a lot. We feel we must open our offense up this year and throw the ball a lot to utilize our skilled people."
Approximately 30 players participated in the practice sessions last week. The squad's backbone this year will be the senior class.
"These players are exceptional, tremendous and outstanding," Coach Barnett said. "This is the first group of seniors here at Briarwood that has been brought up through my system from the start."
Those eight seniors who will guide Briarwood in this new passing game are David Russell - quarterback, Joseph Batrous - wide receiver/halfback, Kyle Ewest - tight end, Jacob Gay - fullback, Chris Gerlach - halfback, Davis Griffin - wide receiver, Charlie Hall - guard and Chase Wilson - guard.
Coach Barnett said he's expecting big things from Russell, who he compared to Minnesota Viking's quarterback Joe Capp of years ago.
"David Russell is a natural leader at the quarterback position. He has improved as much as any kid I have," Coach Barnett said. "As a team last season, we threw for a total of 1,800 yards. David threw for 1,600 of those yards. ... He'll beat you any way he can. If a team hems him up in the backfield, David will find a way to get you. He sets the tone for the entire team."
According to Coach Barnett, Batrous is probably the most talented all-around athlete on the squad. He has the speed, moves and the ability to catch anything.
"Joseph is our big play boy. He had 22 catches last year and averaged 28 yards per catch. When he catches the ball, he'll hurt you with his speed and his moves to elude tackles," Coach Barnett said.
He also praised Ewest's power.
"He's strong, he's got the hands, and he's got the feet. He's got the entire package," Coach Barnett said. "Right now, Kyle is bench pressing close to 300 lbs. When you put all his ingredients in a package, he'll hurt you at tight end. Kyle's got the potential to be one of the best tight ends in GISA."
Meanwhile, he's hoping Gay can use his speed and power to his advantage.
"Jacob Gay's performance can be summed up in a few words - he's a concrete block!" Coach Barnett said. "He has great speed, and he is tough as ever. When you have grabbed him, you will soon know you've got hold of something."
Gerlach has been tabbed as a utility player for Briarwood. He can play any skilled position on the field.
"Chris has tremendous quickness and many skills," Coach Barnett said. "Chris is like cooking a cake. You need the eggs in the ingredients, and when you put that glue in, it will stick."
Coach Barnett also noted that Chase Wilson could be the most outstanding player if he reaches his potential. He was the hardest worker off season.
"Chase is a very intelligent player, and he is a great competitor," Coach Barnett said. "He should do well this year."
He also praised Charlie Hall and Davis Griffin.
Of course with all the strengths, there are weaknesses that a team has. And Briarwood has its weaknesses like everyone.
"Last year, we could not stop the run," Coach Barnett said. "We have to stop our opponent's running game, so we have been working on new defensive schemes to counteract this."