Although spring football games don’t count in the win-loss column, the conditioning and reps put in before do during a pivotal time of the high school football calendar.
| 10:22 a.m. May 26, 2021
By the end of Olympia’s spring football game against Evans, the scoreboard read 35-31 in favor of the Trojans.
But looks can be deceiving.
After three quarters of playing his varsity players, head coach Travis Gabriel told his JV members to put their helmets on and head out onto the field. They were going to learn the harsh difference between the two levels of football. The JV were outscored 21-0 in the fourth quarter.
“The JV football players are JV football players for a reason, so they have a lot of work to do,” Gabriel said. “But varsity played well — we saw a lot of things from them that we can build on, but got a lot of work to do.”
In that game — which took place Friday, May 21 — star wideout and Nebraska commit Victor Jones Jr. caught two touchdowns and 45 yards on five catches, while quarterback C.J. Brooks went 12-of-23 passing for 195 yards and four touchdowns. Jalen Coutain picked up two catches for 82 yards, which included a 51-yard touchdown grab.
But here’s the thing about spring games: The scoreboard doesn’t matter, and it’s far from a concern for coaches.
THE ART OF EVALUATION
Arguably one of the most important times of the year for football is the spring, this is when coaches can look at the talent on the team without worrying about the win-loss column.
For Gabriel’s Titans, the big-time guys are set and have their seat at the table. Spring is more about looking for the proverbial diamonds in the rough and finding those players who fit into the system and can provide on different levels. That process involves blunt honesty and truth-telling.
“Spring is used for the next group of kids,” he said. “Who steps up? Who do we plug into positions? Who is it that played JV or freshman … who played that year who can now step in and play varsity right now? You know — for us — from last year’s team, all those younger kids we kept on varsity have barely played. Are they ready to take the next step to play varsity football?”
Those questions ring louder than they have in the past because of the tremendous setback that COVID-19 had on the spring season in 2020.
MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME
Last year, there was no spring ball, and even when summer workouts finally were allowed to happen, teams were under strict guidelines. The issues hit every team but especially had an effect on smaller schools such as Central Florida Christian Academy.
Regardless of the struggles, the adversity gives coaches a chance to see how their players — especially their younger players — react to those difficult moments.
“The feeling up until last Thursday — the spring game — was very difficult, because we only dressed 17,” CFCA head coach Jeremy Campbell said. “If you watched us play, we’re an up-tempo, very high-pace offense, and defensively, we’re going to fly and blitz around. So with only 17 guys, kids were like, ‘How the heck are we going to do this for a full game without killing ourselves?’”
The Eagles handled business just fine, as they beat Lake Highland Prep 24-16, thanks to an offense that picked up 576 total yards of offense despite not having a true quarterback on the team. Instead, the Eagles’ No. 1 receiver — Bryson James — threw for 170 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-15 passing. He also rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown.
In addition to the same struggles CFCA faced, first-year Foundation Academy head coach Andre Walker dealt with injuries. Of the 30-man roster for the Lions, only 19 dressed for their loss against Wildwood last Friday. However, the game — and the spring season as a whole — was as much about getting his guys adapted and ready for what lies ahead during summer workouts and on into the regular season, he said.
“(It’s) an understanding of what it takes to prepare and get themselves ready for a game,” Walker said. “The understanding of where they can get better and what we need to do as a team going forward to get better and get better results.”