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McKenzie battles heat, adversity in fall practice

McKenzie running back Chris Shufford takes a handoff during the Tigers’ Thursday afternoon practice.  Shufford looks to reprise his role as one of the most dangerous backfield threats in the county this fall.

McKenzie running back Chris Shufford takes a handoff during the Tigers’ Thursday afternoon practice. Shufford looks to reprise his role as one of the most dangerous backfield threats in the county this fall.

This week has served as square one for many of the county’s football programs, and the McKenzie Tigers football team is no different.

And though the Tigers have been hard at work for the past several months in preparation for the fall, Monday marked a noticeable change in tone with the impending season beginning in a few short weeks.

McKenzie head football coach Tony Norris said this week’s practice was a natural evolution of the groundwork the team has laid all summer.

“We’ve been able to lift weights and go out and condition a little bit, and we’ve really taken advantage of that throughout the whole summer,” Norris said.

“This week has been a bit of progression where we’re still lifting weights, but we’ve gone helmets and shirts for the first two days, helmets and shoulder pads for Wednesday and Thursday and full pads on Friday with the allotted time that the state gives us.”

But even in just a helmet and shorts, the Alabama heat still proved enemy No. 1 for the Tigers as the sweltering midday temperatures often threatened to hit triple digits.

While taking the necessary safety precautions, Norris also warned his players that their situation was not a unique one.

“It’s hot in Brantley, Linden, Maplesville and everywhere else,” Norris said.

“You tell them that everybody’s going through the same thing.  You’ve just got to find a way to put it out of your head and keep on going.  Everyone has their days where they just don’t feel like it, but that’s going to happen in life, too.  You’re going to have to find a way to push through that mindset and continue on.  It’s the same thing on a hot day at practice.”

The Tigers head into the fall with a full head of steam, thanks to a standout defensive performance in the Butler County Spring Jamboree.

Friday’s practice marked the first day of full contact since the conclusion of the countywide sparring session in May, and the McKenzie coaching staff have sharpened the Tigers’ defensive edge to a point.

“Coach Coghlan does an awesome job, he and Coach Greg Dennis,” Norris said. “The spring was really a good thing to see.  On offense, we can score as many points as we want to, but if we’re not able to stop them on defense, it doesn’t matter how many points we score.

“And we’ve kind of evolved a bit from the spring—we’re working on trying to get a little bit faster on that side of the ball and we’re keeping it simple.  Any time you can keep it simple for the kids, then you take the thinking out of it and they just go out there and play and have fun.  From being an ex-defensive guy, the biggest thing I tell them is alignment, assignment and effort.  If you know where to go and what you’re supposed to do, and you give me 100-percent effort, you should be just fine.  Coach Dennis and Coach Coghlan have done a fantastic job of making sure our players know those three things.”

One of the most unique elements of practice is a two-tip drill in which a pass is touched by at least two defensive backs before the interception is made and returned for a touchdown.  The drill’s unique blend of teamwork and communication is a key example of McKenzie’s defensive strengths.

“The point of that drill is for everybody to break on the ball, especially the secondary,” Norris said.

“When the ball goes up, we need more than just one person trying to defend the ball.  That’s the reason why we implemented that one into our pursuit drills.”

The Tigers’ prep time winds down, however, as the team faces its first challenge on the road at Ariton on Aug. 19.