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FDA aiming for self-improvement in spring training

The Fort Dale Academy Eagles are taking a different approach to spring training this year with a bit of personal time all to themselves.

Fort Dale Academy head football coach James “Speed” Sampley made a decision to not face another team at the culmination of spring training this year, opting to instead focus on self-improvement.

“We’ve got a few guys who are injured and missing spring,” Sampley said.

“We’ve been in shorts and shoulder pads up until now.  We may be in pads for the rest of the way so that we can get into some heavier contact, but I don’t even know that we’ll even have an intrasquad scrimmage. 

“I’m sure we will have some inside drill scrimmages and stuff like that, but I’m not sure we want to go 11-on-11 just yet until I’m sure what I want to get accomplished.”

Even without the experience of playing another school, Sampley and the Eagles have a clear goal in mind for the spring. Fort Dale is placing a heavy emphasis on individual drill work over the next few weeks.

“Obviously, at a larger school where your guys only play offense or defense, you have more time in the fall to do drill work,” Sampley added. “At our school, or any small school, kids have to play on both sides of the ball and on special teams. And so when the ball gets going, you lose some of your drill work because you have to do so much team stuff on both sides of the ball.  Since we aren’t going to play anybody, this is just a good opportunity to concentrate on individual skills.  And it’s what we needed to do the most, I think.”

As many players at small schools can attest, responsibilities are a bit different when one has to play an offensive and a defensive position, and perhaps a third on special teams.

For Fort Dale, those players are the rule rather than the exception.

“You take any player on my team—every single player on my team has an offensive and a defensive position,” Sampley said. “And almost all of them will play somewhere on special teams. 

“So you’re trying to play three positions, whereas a guy at a big high school, if he’s a defensive end, he’s a defensive end.  He spends his three hours of practice trying to beat one guy, while my guys are trying to beat three.”

Though that’s nothing new for Sampley and the Eagles, what does stand out for this year’s team is its current size. Sampley said that this year’s roster of 30 players is the smallest it has been since 1999.  He attributes it to a sizable exodus of players from the 2016 graduating class, adding that it’s just a fact of life as a coach at a comparatively small school. But there is some good with the bad.

“We lose anywhere from 10 to 15 seniors every year.  That’s just what happens,” he said. “We have some guys with some experience.  We have some guys who are going to have to play without any experience. And we’re returning some guys who will be on their third year starting, and you always feel pretty good about them because they’ve got some experience. 

“But you’ve got to get everybody ready; your chain’s only as strong as your weakest link. There’s a lot of work to do.”