Double-session practices have ended at Newark High as teachers return all across the Christina School District this week in anticipation of welcoming students back the day after Labor Day.
That means that the official preseason has just one week remaining, with practices shifted to what will be the normal after-school time slot. Looking back at his first two weeks as the head coach at Newark, Jody Russell is overall pleased with where his team stands today.
“We definitely took a step forward this [past] week,” he reflected. “We had a great week of practice, which translated into better execution on both sides of the ball.
“As double sessions come to an end, I think we are on track,” he added. “Obviously, no football coach is ever satisfied with where they are. You always have something you can improve. Something you can work on. The team is improving every day. The message to the guys is that we need the same improvement day to day and week to week. If we can match last week's improvement this week, we will be in a good place.”
Three phases of the game
Russell was quick to point out the areas in all three phases of the game that stuck out following Week 2 of the preseason, which included a scrimmage on Saturday against Wilmington Friends, a perennial Division II playoff team that played in last year’s championship game.
“Offensively, we moved the football better in the air than anticipated,” Russell explained of a unit led by veteran quarterback Mele Stallings. “The run game is still a work in progress as the guys continue to grasp the schemes and assignments of a new offense.”
Stallings is also excited about Newark’s progress.
“I feel great about our offense. It took a huge leap from our first scrimmage against William Penn,” he said. “And we are only looking to improve on that as we learn and adapt to the new offense we have.”
Russell described the new offense as a spread offense, similar to what the team ran last year but with different terminology.
“It’s like learning a new language for all of the players,” he said.
The Yellowjackets entered last week focusing on one major concept on the defensive side of the ball.
“Defensively, we flew to the football, which was a point of emphasis for us this week,” Russell said as he thought back to Saturday’s scrimmage. “We were very active up front with the defensive line making numerous plays around the line of scrimmage.”
In that scrimmage, special teams units experienced their first real live test of the season, and it would appear the Yellowjackets have themselves a reliable place kicker as junior Paige Stevens converted five of six extra points. Stevens is a member of the girls soccer team.
“Senior slot-back Jason Mitchell-Dickerson had a great scrimmage offensively catching the football, and senior two-way lineman Alex Aviles had some flash plays on the defensive line,” Russell pointed out.
The athletic training staff had a relatively uneventful two weeks as players grinded their way through two-a-days without suffering any major injuries.
“As far as health goes, we have been pretty fortunate,” Russell said. “We have a couple lingering soft tissue injuries that sidelined kids on Saturday, but they should see action this week.”
With on-field practice time now cut in half, Russell is anxious to see the positive physical effects of that transition.
“Single sessions should help to bring the guys’ legs back,” he said. “The soreness and grind of doubles can break down the body. Hopefully we can get through this week healthy and arrive at Sept. 6 at full strength.”
Third and final scrimmage
The final scrimmage of the preseason takes place at Tower Hill on Thursday at 6 p.m.
“In the last scrimmage, I would like to see better execution in the run game offensively,” Russell said. “Defensively, continue our rally to the football and we still need to be better tacklers. Special teams need to continue to improve schematically in live action.”
Butch Simpson Field ceremony
The official naming of the field inside Hoffman Stadium to Butch Simpson Field will take place during a special ceremony prior to the opening game on Sept. 6 at Newark High. The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 6:40 p.m. followed by kickoff against Glasgow High at 7 p.m. Simpson, who now resides in Florida, is scheduled to attend the ceremony.
The Newark athletic department is seeking donations for a planned "alumni player/coach" tailgate that will take place prior to the ceremony. Donations might include food, drink or financial assistant. Those people/businesses/companies interested, please contact athletic director Jason Bedford at Jason.Bedford@christina.k12.de.us or assistant athletic director Brian Corey at Brian.Corey@christina.k12.de.us.
The Buzz from the Hive will be posted online each Monday morning during the high school football season and also in Friday’s print edition. It will include some game analysis and exclusive quotes from Newark High football coach Jody Russell and select members of the team after they've had a chance to watch game film, evaluate their performance, and begin preparation for the next game.