RHS spring training beginsPublished 6:00am Saturday, May 4, 2013
RUSSELLVILLE —May has come back around and is finally upon us.
This month marks the end of the baseball and softball seasons as well as the golf season, but one fall sport makes a short stint each year into the month of May; spring football.
Spring football gives teams and coaches an extra chance to get work in before the season begins in earnest at the end of August in about three months time.
No one around this area loves their team as much as the city of Russellville loves the Golden Tigers, and that pressure to perform can be felt by everyone involved as the spring season gives the local team a chance to prepare for the difficult 5A opponents waiting for them in the regular season.
Luckily for the Golden Tigers, winning has been a bit of a tradition over the years.
“It’s very exciting,” Russellville head coach Michael Jackson said.
“We’re excited to see how the hard work these guys have made over the last five months will pay off.
“We’re excited to see the players on the football field again. We’ve been working out and conditioning, but it’s fun when the guys get back on the field.
“We get to see how much bigger and stronger they are and see how much they have improved.”
Aside from the obvious differences like the temperature, weather and time of year, spring training presents a different kind of opportunity for coaches and players.
“Spring football is a bit slower,” Jackson said.
“You have a bunch of young guys who are coming over and becoming new members of the team.
“Your whole objective is to find guys who can contribute and get them on the field.
“You have to make sure you have your returning players in the right place.
“We’re trying out some guys at some new positions trying to make our team better.
“Springtime is a good time to test yourself, find out where you’re at and find out what improvements that you have to make going into the fall.”
Russellville plays in one of the single toughest football regions in the state of Alabama.
Some teams may only see an opponent of Muscle Shoals or Hartselle’s caliber once or twice a season.
The Golden Tigers play some of the best teams in Class 5A almost every Friday night during the short 10-week regular season.
The only way to prepare for some of the best competition the state has to offer is to play one of the best teams in Alabama.
For a 5A team like Russellville, finding that kind of an opponent may mean seeking out a larger Class 6A school, and that is exactly what Coach Jackson had in mind for his upcoming spring opponent.
The Golden Tigers will take on the Class 6A Pelham Panthers when the spring training season culminates in a few short weeks.
Pelham is a perennial powerhouse much like Russellville, and their smashmouth brand of football will offer a true test to the will and ability of the Russellville players; a test that will aid the team when the foes of the regular season come calling.
“We got to talking with Pelham, and we believe it will be a huge challenge going up against them, a 6A team,” Jackson said.
“They have a good reputation as a playoff team from last year, and they have played against and beat some of the biggest teams in the state.
“They’ve got a couple of big-time recruits this year, a couple of SEC-caliber guys.
“It should be a great challenge and a great end to the spring to see where we are at against that caliber of an opponent.”
Not only is Pelham a larger team, but they will have the added advantage of running a Stone-Age throwback offense that most 5A teams never see during a season.
Russellville will have to plan for that down the line, but right now Coach Jackson and his staff are focused on other issues.
“Right now we are worrying about ourselves and getting people in place and learning our schemes,” he said.
“Then we will work on a few things we will see in the majority of games next season.
“Then we will have to game plan for Pelham. The offense they run we won’t see much.
“They run an option offense kind of like Georgia Tech runs, and they’re very good at it.
“You don’t see that very much in 5A football. We’ll have to spend some time game planning against that or we’ll have a hard time stopping it.
“They scored a lot of points last year. It’s going to be a challenge.”
As Coach Jackson said, the main focus is on his own team.
They must work at getting better and worrying about their own issues before planning for their opponent.
“Everything we do is a process, and we’re expecting to get better and better each and every day when we’re working out and when we’re going to practice,” he said.
“Our guys are buying into it. We have a large group of players out. From grades nine through 12 we have anywhere from 100-110 players early in the spring.
“We‘re expecting to get better each and every day and to build on what last year’s seniors left.”
Speaking of last year’s seniors, filling the gaps left behind by the graduation and departure of last year’s senior class may be one of the biggest challenges Russellville faces this season.
“I don’t think you can fill those gaps right away. We had six guys sign college scholarships, and it was a great senior group,” Jackson said.
“The number one objective going into the spring is to develop leadership.
“We have to do that because the strength of last year’s team was its senior leadership. That’s one of the main things we’re concentrating on.”