Success starts in the summer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hurricane football coach Jeremy Taylor reaped the benefits from last year's summer practice period.
"You might find a few surprises like we did,'' said the Redskins second-year coach. "We found a corner, Jeff Burnette. He hadn't played since he was a freshman.
"He ended up starting the year and he did a solid job. [Zach Fitzsimmons started at] free safety and made a ton of tackles around the line of scrimmage and some interceptions. We found some diamonds around the school to really help us out.''
That process begins again in earnest Monday as high school sports squads from around the state will be able to hold organized practices the last three weeks of June.
The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission adopted the rule in 2003 that allows coaches to work out their players in any sport during this period except on Sundays.
Taylor and the Redskins are looking to take a different approach this year to the three-week opening, which ends June 29. The trendy option in recent years has been for football teams to attend 7-on-7 workouts, which emphasize the passing game.
"This year we're trying to do more practices,'' said the Hurricane coach who led the Redskins to the first round of the Class AAA playoffs last year. "We've got a lot more kids out this year than in years past. We're trying to get guys looks at different positions.
"Playing sandlot football, you really don't get to see what they can do. Last year we focused too much on the offense and not enough on the defense and we're going to try to divide that time this year. We're going to go through a couple of our mock practice routines that we're going to try to implement in the fall.''
At GW, the summer will take on a more vital role as Steve Edwards Jr. looks to replace six starters on offense and defense. The last several years the Patriots have relied on two-time Kennedy Award-winning tailback Ryan Switzer, who signed with North Carolina.
"We're going to have to use it a little more differently than we have in the past,'' said Edwards, who guided the Patriots to the AAA semifinals. "Before, we just hit the ground running. We'll have to slow it down a little bit.
"We're going to take a little bit more time and do a little more traditional practicing. We're going to need the time to get everybody familiar. We'll have to use a lot of evaluation time, which is going to be a little more important than it has been. It's going to be a time for learning. Kids are going to get a lot of chances and I hope the kids take the opportunity.''
South Charleston boys basketball coach Vic Herbert enjoys mixing practices with games at different venues. SC will travel to Cabell Midland, Marshall, Poca and George Washington during the three-week stretch.
"What we do is try to play a series of games, 10 to 15 games, during that time,'' said Herbert, whose Black Eagles advanced to the semis of the AAA state tournament in March. "You may go play three in one day. I like going around to different places.''
Herbert also doesn't mind his multi-sport athletes missing a few days with the basketball team.
"My belief is football season comes before basketball season, so if there's a day where we have conflicting days I encourage my guys to go ahead and go to football stuff,'' he said. "To me, I kind of like that.
"It gives me a chance to look at other kids who don't get much playing time. You've got your guys that are solid and you know what they can do because you've seen them. We have found some kids that have really impressed us in the summer and earned that good look in the winter.''
GW girls basketball coach Jamie LaMaster takes a more frenzied approach to the three weeks.
The last several years, the push in girls basketball during the three-week practice time has been to attend one- and two-day shootouts, playing three games each day. The Patriots will host their sixth shootout Friday while St. Albans will have its 11th the last week of the practice period.
"We're pretty loaded up,'' said LaMaster, whose team will play in 36 games over 18 days. "We're doing a long list of things.
"We're going to start out by going to Fairland, Ironton and Marietta [in Ohio], Parkersburg, the WVU team camp [and] the SA Shootout. We try to treat it like a mini-season and get the most out of it. We want [our players] worn out with basketball when it comes the end of it.''
LaMaster said this year's June practice period is critical to the Patriots' development.
"Right now it looks like I'm only bringing in one freshman,'' he said. "There are definitely some holes to fill.
"I've got to get the most out of the summer period to know what I'm working with [and] see where these kids fall in place. I've got some freshmen that played JV last year and it'll give me a chance to see what they can do, too. Especially when you lose some kids, it gives you a chance to evaluate.''
The inaugural High School Summer Classic will give soccer coaches in the Kanawha Valley a different approach to the practice period. The event will bring together about 20 teams from across the region for 7-on-7 play at Trace Fork. The boys teams will play June 14-15 while the girls hit the pitch June 21-22.
"It's going to be nice because the grind of practice gets tough,'' said Charleston Catholic coach Amy Mullen, who led the Fighting Irish back to the state tournament last year.
Mullen said this month allows coaches in fall sports to set the tone early for their teams.
"I hope to be able to introduce the freshmen to the new players and just iron out where we're going to be in August,'' she said. "It's real difficult because of summer vacation. It's kind of hard to get [everybody together]. I just look forward to seeing everybody and starting to get geared back up for the fall.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.