Like most teams on Thursday, the St. James Wildcats were involved in full-contact work for the first time in 2020.
Few coaches likely explained his team’s effort in a more colorful fashion that Robert Valdez.
“It’s like sloppy joe. It never really looks good; you just have to eat it. Also, the more you eat it, the better it gets, the St. James coached chuckled.
He then went on to translate what the unique response meant.
“We are a little rusty,” Valdez said. “We haven’t had any contact since December. We didn’t have a spring (practice). You can do a lot of the drills with no contact but when you get to the physicality of football, it tells the story.
“We have a ways to do. Thank God we have about 14 days and then we get a scrimmage. You have to get the body acclimated to the physicality of it, to the pounding. Of course, coupled with the heat and everything else like that, I’m just glad the kids are giving us effort. We are rusty. We are not crisp. We are not sharp, but we are working. That, to me, is exciting enough.”
No contact since the 2019 season also has meant no true means of teaching blocking and tackling.
“You can do all the running that you want to and the agility ladders and all what I call, ‘Kids stuff,’ but it doesn’t replace the actual blocking and tackling component. Football is to be played in a physical element with blocking and tackling and it takes time for the timing, the rhythm, and the kids to totally understand how to maneuver and how to tackle,” said Valdez.
Players welcomed the chance to finally make contact with another player.
“It feels good,” said St. James offensive lineman D’Shawn Jenkins. “We haven’t hit in a while, so we have to get used to it. We have a scrimmage in two weeks against Amite.”
“It’s awesome to tackle somebody right now. It runs your adrenaline. It makes you play even harder,” said defensive end Sai’Vion Jones.
While it may have felt like the team was working harder, his coach said he thought the enthusiasm could have been higher.
“I just think it’s a sign of the times,” said Valdez. “We found out we are playing, and I think what is happening there is really nothing to get excited over with COVID and the world and all that. I think everybody was just threading carefully and right now the energy is not where I want it to be, but I think it’s just with what is going on today and reality. I think we are just kind of coasting and playing it by ear and see what will be the outcome of stuff.
“We have to pick it up. We have to get better and that’s what full-contact, full-gear practice will bring.”
Jenkins normally gets the task of having to try and block Jones, an LSU commitment.
“He helps me get better because he has a lot of good technique and a lot of good pass-rush moves. I think he has probably one the best pass (rushing) moves in 3A, so if I can block him, I feel like I can block anybody else,” said Jenkins.
Limited practices and a delayed start to the season has all high school teams in the same boat. For St. James, however, the Wildcats have the added chore of dealing with teams wanting to knock off the defending Class 3A state champions.
“We are OK with having the target on our back,” Valdez said. “We’re defending and all that, but I tell (the players) all the time that was 2019, this is 2020. You are no longer the hunter; you are the hunted. We are OK with that. We know when we line up, we will get everybody’s best, so we have to prepare and practice and be ready for that.”