FDA looking to rebuild during spring training

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Junior running back Andrew Salter, who will be a senior in the fall, led the pack Monday during an offense-focused day of spring training.

Junior running back Andrew Salter, who will be a senior in the fall, led the pack Monday during an offense-focused day of spring training.

It’s business as usual on the field at Fort Dale Academy as the Eagles prepare for the impending fall with spring training.

FDA head football coach James “Speed” Sampley prepares to enter his 18th year with a starting crop of players that differs very little from those of years past, though a large exodus of seniors is bound to shake things up significantly for this year’s Eagles team.

Receivers Austin Vickery and Stephen Hartley, running back Muarlan Dickerson, tight end Caison Elliott and four of the Eagles’ five offensive linemen are gone.

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“Zach Burt is a returning starter on the offensive line.  Andrew Salter and Clay Mansmann both return as defensive starters, and they split time as running back last year,” Sampley said.

“Lance Powell will be a returning senior this year, but we’ll be moving him from tight end to the wing, or H-back position.  Tanner Cartwright will return as a parttime starter at nose guard, depending on whom we’re playing and whether we’re using the quick front or the big front.

“We’ve got several coming back with experience.  We’ve just got to get some of these younger guys some experience.”

And the Eagles will have roughly two weeks before playing a to-be-determined spring jamboree opponent to get their house in order.

Alternating between days of shorts and shoulder pads and full gear, the Eagles will spend the next few weeks trying to answer some pivotal questions on the offensive and defensive side of things.

Sampley will be employing a different style of offense for this year’s team that will require some shifting of responsibilities, most notably on the offensive line (new plays will require some swift-footed guards).

But perhaps the biggest responsibility will fall on the shoulders of second-year starting quarterback Luke Taylor.

“Most of everything we’re trying to install is going to be what everybody has gone to now, which is the run/pass option before you ever get started,” Sampley said.

“You have pre-snap reads that determine whether you’re going to throw it or whether you’re going to run the running plays tagged with it.

“Luke will be a second-year starter, and so he can handle a lot more now than he could back then.  We’re going to put a lot of pressure on him, and hopefully he will respond and understand what we’re trying to accomplish now.  But I think he’ll be fine.”

Based on Taylor’s pre-snap read of the situation, the Eagles will have a number of options, including the pass, run and triple-option on the backside of the play, depending the look the defense gives him.

Though fairly complicated, Sampley is confident that last year’s experiences have made Taylor a dependable leader of the Eagles’ offense.

What concerns Sampley more, though, is finding an answer to the question that Fort Dale hasn’t been asked in years.

“We’re losing all of our kickers and all of our snappers,” Sampley said. “We’ve had a good kicker for years.  For 10 to 12 years, we’ve had good kickers, and even longer than that, but we’re going to have to find a guy for kickoff, a snapper and a punter.  That’s work that’s going to have to begin today.

“In high school football, especially at smaller high schools, when you score a touchdown and you know you’ve got seven points instead of six, it’s a big deal.  And it’s been that way for a long time.  Quite honestly, we’ve got to make sure we have that covered.”

Though the turnover from 2015 to 2016 has been a bit larger than previous years, Sampley is confident in the players he’s come to know for decades—a perspective that few have, courtesy of his near-two-decade tenure at Fort Dale.

“Every football coach has an opinion on spring training.  I think spring training is, most of the time, way overrated by most people,” Sampley said.

“I see a real value in it when you have a new coach coming in that doesn’t know his players, and he’s trying to decide what he wants to do.  But the football players at Fort Dale have never seen another football coach.  I’ve been here for 17 years, and so I’ve seen all of them play since they were in peewee.  It’s not like they’re new to me or new to my staff.

“What we’re assessing is how much they’ve grown physically or mentally, when it comes to knowledge of the game.  But we pretty much know who we got and what positions they’re going to have to play as the years go on.”