TUNNEL HILL, Ga. — It was just a few days ago but the events couldn't have been any more different for the athletes wearing the distinct colors of the Northwest Whitfield Bruins.
This past weekend saw the Bruins flying around the field in a 7-on-7 passing competition, where contact was non-existent and the team's skill position players learning their craft. Wednesday was far less glamorous, but -- if you listen to the coaches -- much more valuable.
It's called "contact camp," and the name says it all. While there were some drills aimed at the skill guys, this three-day event is more about the trenches. Instead of out patterns and streaks the athletes at Northwest were doing inside and outside blocking drills and one-on-one pass-blocking drills. It may not be flashy, but the sessions allowed -- for the second consecutive year by the GHSA -- are invaluable.
"It's the best preparation you can get before camp opens," Northwest coach Josh Robinson said. "We get to wear shoulder pads and helmets, and we get to work against other teams in contact drills. Until the GHSA allowed these camps everything was geared toward the skill kids. It's harder to get linemen acclimated to the heat, so this is a great way to do that and at the same time get your units to work together."
Ridgeland was one of 12 teams at the contact camp at North Murray High School last week and coach Mark Mariakis noticed a decided difference in his team after the two days of drills.
"This our first year of contact camp work, and it was an incredible experience," Mariakis said. "First of all, it gets the big kids acclimated to the heat -- and our first game is Aug. 22 and it's going to be hot -- but getting to work against other teams is just something you can't simulate.
"We're a run-oriented team, so the passing leagues don't do a whole lot for us offensively. You could tell the difference in the guys after the two days, how they were coming off the ball and pulling or trapping. There's a big difference in hitting a seven-man sled and hitting a live body that hits back and moves."
In addition to the team drills there were several 11-on-11 scrimmages and individual teaching lessons. Robert Akins, whose Ringgold team was also at North Murray, believes his team also became closer following the camp.
"Frankly, you don't find that chemistry in 7-on-7 stuff, but when you go 11-on-11, it's a team thing," Akins said. "You are constantly working, so the kids are going to be in better shape when we open camp, but getting to work side-by-side and having to rely on each other is really invaluable."
Dalton, fresh off a runner-up finish at the Southeastern 7-on-7 Championships this past weekend, is currently working at the FCA 11-on-11 contact camp at West Georgia University. Coach Matt Land, whose team returns strong skill position kids, believes his team will only go as far as its linemen will take it.
"We're replacing some very key guys on each line, so the key for us is who are going to be those nine or 10 guys to step in on the lines?" he said. "That's where it all starts with us, and we'll start to find out this week. This is the camp that matters the most to us because we'll get more done for what we do. The linemen kind of get ignored at this time of the summer, so this week is more about them."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...