Can you smell it… Football back in the air as Spring practice kicks off

Published 11:32 pm Thursday, April 29, 2021

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One year ago, most coaches didn’t know if they were going to have a football season or not after Spring practice was canned due to COVID-19 along with all Spring sports.

However, that isn’t the case this year as football players and coaches didn’t have to dance around temperature checks, checklists, or the wearing of masks as Spring football practice 2021 has gotten underway at Elizabethton High School.

The Cyclones are the back-to-back defending Blue Cross Class 4A State Champs and they know they have a lot of work ahead of them to prepare to make a run for number three but are up to the task and chomping at the bit to try and bring another gold ball back to the trophy case inside Elizabethton High School.

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That is why being able to have a Spring practice is so important as there is plenty of talent returning but also there is a lot of experience gone as well including Class 4A Mr. Football Parker Hughes (Middle Tennessee State commit), along with three linemen who provided invaluable protection for quarterback Bryson Rollins in Cole Morganstern (U.S. Air Force commit), Wesley Erwin (the University of Greensboro commit), and Colby Garland (Tusculum University commit).

Defensively, the Cyclones also have to replace a motor of a defensive back in Deuce Morton (the University of Pikeville commit) who led the team in tackles.

Also, Braden Holly graduated taking experience from the wide receiver position.

That for many coaches would be overwhelming but not for Cyclone head coach Shawn Witten who knows that those guys who helped bring two gold balls back to Elizabethton from Cookeville have laid a solid foundation with more talent waiting in the wings for their shot to do likewise.

One of those talents will be senior quarterback Bryson Rollins who has been tabbed as a Mr. Football finalist for the past two seasons. Also in the mix is Jake Roberts whose dazzling performance last season in the state championship earned him the MVP trophy from that game as a defensive back and a wideout.

Others that will be counted on for leadership will be offensive linemen Owen Slagle, Sam Bowers, and Conner Johnson. Defensively, Trenton Taylor, Drew Turner, and Grayson Hatfield return to the trenches and counted on heavily.

Names like Cade Russell, Dalton Mitchell, Nate Stephens, Josh Sweeney, Blake Stewart, Sean Smithdeal, Teddy Orton, Mason Ball, Peyton Johnson, Caleb Johnson, Jacob Whitaker, Caden Drain, and Bradley Cannon are just a few names that been to the state level and experienced play at that level and are hungry like a wolf to showcase their growth and maturity.

And one cannot forget the new freshman class coming in either as it was loaded with talent the last two seasons either winning or tying for the conference championship and molded in the image of the high school team led by Brock Pittman, Ryan Witten and staff of football assistant coaches that would make any high school team happy with the collection.

But for now, that is not what this Spring practice is about. It’s about getting reps, improving techniques, and having fun while working toward the grander scheme of things coming up starting in June.

“Where we didn’t get it a year ago, you just kind of go back to the basics because we have so much to replace really at the line of scrimmage,” Coach Witten shared about the importance of the time together. “You just want to see some of the guys get a head start and get it done early and enjoy the weather and work on the fundamentals that have made us really good at what we do.

“There is a small learning curve of underclassmen coming up and becoming upperclassmen, freshmen becoming sophomores and kind of finding their role and seeing where they fit in, and it’s good when you don’t have everybody out here because your eyes can really focus on different people.”

There won’t be any pads donned during the Spring practice and the only reason helmets were worn according to Witten was it didn’t seem like football without at least putting on the helmets.

“We are not so much focused on specific plays – just getting them moving with some sled work and getting them bending and really see what guys can do. Maybe this guy doesn’t fit this position so you work with him and get him here,” Witten commented.

“You want to get the skill guys as much ball work as you can because they are never going to catch enough balls in a day. We are not really working on quarterbacks and running backs handing off or quarterbacks throwing because we have all summer to do that.

“We are just really working on toughness and when you got to replace guys that have been in big games like we have – how many times can the guys just hit the sled over and over and over.”

Witten went on to add that everyone including himself and his coaches are very thankful that they can get back to a Spring practice format after losing out on so much last season leading up to their second consecutive championship and current 30-game winning streak.

“It’s great to be out here and it’s great to be able to have it and we definitely need it and are going to take advantage of it,” stated Witten.

Summer workouts kick off on June 1st, 2021 when the entire team will be back together along with incoming ninth graders. There is a two-week dead period the last week of June and the first week of July.

The Spring practice allows 10 full days in a matter of 15 school days.

Cloudland and Hampton begin their Spring practice on Monday, May 3rd while Happy Valley and Unaka will begin on May 10th.