Weather-wise, things were going pretty well with the opening of high school football practice – until the cloud cover disappeared.
“We had some cover from the sun, then Mother Nature, who was hiding behind the clouds decided to show us the light, and it became too hot to practice,” veteran coach James (Bubba) Spears, who is starting his first season as Hillwood coach, said.
Hillwood, like most of the other schools around Nashville and the state, opened practice with pads Monday morning and – for about four hours at least – Spears’ and other area teams got a break from the oppressive heat with some cover from the clouds.
“We got started at 8 a.m., but at about 11:55, the sun came out, and the heat index hit 110 degrees, and we had to stop,” Spears said.
A TSSAA directive states once the heat index hits that level, practices must stop.
“I can remember the old days when we just drank some water and kept practicing,” line coach Gary Clarke who came over with Spears from East Literature, said. “Then when practice was over, they would give us some Coca-Colas.”
Spears, 53, got the East Lit football program started last fall. The Eagles finished 5-5 and barely missed the 3A playoffs.
Now Spears and staff are trying to bolster the Topper program back into contention again. The school hasn’t made the playoffs since 2004 and has won just four games in three years.
Very little experience
Asked to sum up what he has seen out of his team thus far, Spears said, “We’ve got a ways to go. As a team, we have to start picking it up. We’re very young, we only have four seniors, with 15 juniors and 18 sophomores.”
Two of those sophomores – Ryan Dolan and Brayden Stewart – are battling for the starting quarterback job.
Asked about the move to Hillwood, Spears said, “It’s my first job in West Nashville after I’ve coached at Stratford and East Lit. I spoke with Mose Phillips (former Hillwood coach, who moved to Whites Creek), and he was very helpful.”
Spears mentioned his assistants – Taylor Burks (offensive backs, linebackers, defensive co-cordinator) William Darnell (special teams), Anthony Stevens (O and D line), Lish Burgess (defensive backs), besides Clarke.
Asked if his old coach and good friend Jerry Pigue would re-join him on the sidelines as he did at East Lit, Spears said, “probably in a limited capacity, possibly on the head phones in the press box.”
Asked if he would call the offensive plays, Spears said, laughing, “Yes, I’ll take credit for the ones that work and blame someone else if they don’t.”
Asked about improving, he said, “It’s not about X’s and O’s, it’s about Jimmys and Joes (good personnel). Every day we want to get better, and, the Good Lord willing, we will.”
Ryan ready to roll
At Father Ryan, head coach Bruce Lussier experienced much the same weather conditions as Hillwood and other sites did around Nashville.
“It was overcast early, not as oppressive as it could have been,” Lussier said after watching his troops in pads for the first time. “We drank a lot of water, which helped us hydrate and had some foods, which were good for us.”
As for going into pads for the first time, he said, “We were already pretty far along as for our passing game without the pads. Putting the pads on for the first time, we were a step or two slow, but that’s understandable. It’s just a matter of incorporating our running game into the offense, we knew what to expect.”
Nicholl appears to have QB job
Senior Christian Nicholl appears virtually certain to land the starting quarterback job for the Irish. The 5-11, 200-pound senior was backup to standout Trey McPhail last year.
“He’s been running with the first group mostly. He’s a good passer, and he appears to have a full grasp of the offense,” Lussier said. “He started on defense last year.”
Lussier pointed out that standout senior wide receiver Patrick Pickney returns, as well as three starters in the offensive line.
“On defense, in the deep secondary, we’re a little inexperienced, but we should be pretty strong at linebacker and in the line,” he said.
The Irish host neighborhood foe Overton in their first game Aug. 20 in Week 0. The schools are located only about two miles apart.
The Irish start their second season in Carell Complex stadium, one of the nicest football venues in the Nashville area.