Thursday, August 9, 2018

Hillcrest-Evergreen, Sparta Academy eye what could be memorable seasons for both programs

Hillcrest quarterback Ryan Nettles warms up on Monday.

Preseason football practice is now in full swing at both of our local high schools, and I think this coming season will be memorable for both programs.

I spent a little time watching both teams practice on Monday, and enthusiasm was high at both practices, despite the hot weather. Due to well-developed off-season programs, most kids show up to preseason practice in pretty decent shape, and those who aren’t will get to where they need to be by the time the season starts. As hard as it is to believe, that’s not that far away, especially for Sparta, which begins regular season play on Aug. 17.

Hillcrest will begin regular season play on Aug. 24, so they’ve got a little more time to prepare for their season-opener. On Monday, I spent a few minutes watching the Jags practice, and in my opinion, this year’s team looks further ahead than last year’s team did at this point. The defense looks stronger, and the offense looks like a well-oiled machine.

Hillcrest’s current team also has good energy and for good reason. This year’s team is packed with veteran players who know what it takes to have a great season and win a state title. They’ve also got a sense of pride that has been rarely seen at the school, and they’re out to defend the reputation they established last season.

The coaches at Hillcrest have worked nothing short of a miracle. The current level of talent on the team is about the same as it’s always been, but the coaching staff has been able to bring it all together in a way that’s never been done before. They’re getting the most out of the players they have, and it’s opening doors and creating opportunities for kids in a major way.

The kids at Sparta also had a spring in their step on Monday, and I look for them to be better than they were last year. They’ve got good players at the skill positions but are looking for answers on the offensive line. For the young linemen at Sparta, now is the time to make your mark at the school.

Sparta head coach Justin Chandler told me on Monday that he thinks this season could be a cornerstone-type season, one that the program can build on toward bigger and better things ahead. Many young players will likely get key playing time this season, and he’s expecting that game experience to pay dividends down the road. I look for Sparta to surprise a few teams this year, and I won’t be surprised to see the Warriors qualify for the playoffs.

In the end, the 2018 season looks to be one to remember at both schools, and football fans in the reading audience have all of that ahead of us at this point. Every football season has its highs and lows, and it’s hard to predict what will happen in the coming weeks. The old cliché of “expect the unexpected” is an old cliché because it’s generally true, especially when it comes to football.

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