AVON PARK — There is a different sound coming from the practice fields as the Avon Park football team goes through spring drills.
The 52 youthful Red Devils were being encouraged by the coaching staff as they learned the fundamentals of blocking and tackling under the scorching sun Tuesday afternoon.
Patient coaching and positive reinforcement is being utilized by second-year Avon Park football coach Wade Jackson and his staff.
“We’re excited about getting spring football practice underway,” said Jackson. “We’ve got 52 players with great attitudes out for the team which is double what we had last year. “We have 16 players back who played varsity last year and we have a lot of players who will be sophomores who will play varsity.
“We’ve got some talent, but we’re going to be a young team with a lot of sophomores.”
Avon Park struggled to a 1-9 record last year playing a brutal schedule, but the players never quit and bought into the system that Jackson was using.
“Our first goal last year was to change the attitudes of the players and we did that,” the Red Devil coach said. “Our offseason weight program went well and the kids are excited to be on the field. We’re a small school and a lot of our athletes play other sports, but we had good attendance and our goal is to get stronger and faster.”
Avon Park is switching to a new offense and the Red Devils have to replace talented senior quarterback Alfred Brown, who had a solid season behind center.
“We’re going to run a little more spread offense this year,” Jackson said. “We’ve got some kids that have good speed and can catch the ball. “We ran this offense in 2005 when I was an assistant coach under T.C Cousins, and we want to get our players in space and I think it’s a good fit for the talent we have.
“We have Kody Littles, Warren Buckner and A’Darius Council playing quarterback and all of those kids are hard workers and they love the game.”
Avon Park has good depth at running back and a bevy of talented wide receivers to throw to.
“We have a plethora of quality running backs,” Jackson said. “We want to be balanced on offense and when we throw the ball we have a number of wide receivers who are playmakers.”
Avon Park has a red/white scrimmage set for Friday, May 16. The scrimmage starts at 5 p.m. and Jackson is looking forward to seeing what his players can do in game situations.
“We’re having a controlled scrimmage and we want to see what our players have learned,” the Red Devil coach said. “We’re focusing on the fundamentals and executing the plays correctly.”
Being in his second year as the head coach has made a big difference for Jackson.
“It’s a lot easier this year because the players know what we expect and myself and the other coaches have built relationships with the players,” the Avon Park coach said. “I think that’s been a big turnaround for us and you’re only as good as the people behind you and I’m fortunate to have a great coaching staff that the players trust and have responded to.”
Avon Park plays its spring game on May 23 at St. Petersburg Catholic.
“St. Petersburg Catholic is a solid program and I’m looking forward to seeing what our athletes can do against a quality team,” Jackson said. “We want to give all of our players a chance to compete and see how they react against a different team. We want to win because that carries positive momentum into the summer program, but I’m more concerned with are we doing the right things and moving in the right direction.”