On Monday, more than 125 student-athletes turned out for the first official day of prep football practice in Bladen County in preparation of the 2016 season that opens on Friday, Aug. 19.
The East Bladen Eagles, who have been practicing 6 to 8 p.m., saw more than 70 varsity and jayvee players come out; the West Bladen Knights, who have practiced 8 to 10 a.m., had more than 50 players participating.
Both teams are aiming at a pair of scrimmages next week to use as measuring sticks before the season opens on Friday, Aug. 19.
Speed has always been an ingredient to the Eagles’ annual success, but head coach Robby Priest may have more of it this season than any in the recent past.
“We’re fast, fast, fast,” he said just two days into practice. “People won’t be getting outside on us like they did last season.”
But it’s not only speed that East Bladen will be relying on. Priest said his Eagles are “big where we need to be,” as well as having the usual array of experienced athletes — including rising seniors Kyle Tatum, Ethan Hines and Eian Hines.
In addition, East Bladen has a quarterback competition evolving between rising juniors Quinton Bedsole and Sincere Smith that has Priest excited about the outcome.
“They’ll compete hard and make each other better,” Priest said, “which is good for us.”
Defensively, the Eagles have a solid lineman in Caleb Strait and tough linebacker in Michael Walter.
East Bladen will travel to Lumberton on Wednesday, Aug.10, to participate in the second annual Battle of the Carolinas scrimmage. On Friday, Aug. 12, East Bladen will host its own Jamboree at Lenon Fisher Stadium.
The Eagles open the season on Friday, Aug. 19, when they host South Columbus High at 7 p.m.
There may be more excitement and hopefulness in Dublin than anytime in the recent pat around the Knights varsity football team.
“We’ve got some athletes, some real studs here,” said Todd Pait, the first-year head coach for West Bladen. “We can use some more jayvee players to help us, but the varsity looks really good.”
Pait has been busy putting in a new offense that is expected to be more balanced, and is tinkering with the Knights’ basic 4-4 defense.
At practice this week, West Bladen has hit the gridiron at 8 a.m. and gone right to work on a number of new formations and plays — led on offense by new quarterback Weston Pidgeon, a rising senior who sat out last season after battling a number of ankle sprains and kidney stones.
The Knights have a couple of seasoned running backs behind Pidgeon in rising senior James Moore and rising junior B.J. Drake. Out at wide receiver, Pidgeon has weapons in rising junior Shaquille Johnson and rising junior Daevon Swindell.
On the line, West Bladen is expected to be anchored by rising junior Jonathan Robinson and, at linebacker, the Knights are boasting about rising senior Hunter Pait in the middle.
West Bladen will travel to Southport on Wednesday, Aug. 10, for a scrimmage at South Brunswick High, where they will face both the host team and South Columbus High, where departed Knights head coach Russell Dove is now the head coach. On Friday, Aug. 12, the Knights will travel cross-county for a scrimmage in the East Bladen Jamboree.
West Bladen opens the season Friday, Aug. 19, at South Robeson High in Maxton at 7 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.