Tifton Gazette


July 7, 2014

Eighth Street teams getting stronger

TIFTON — School is probably not the place of choice for teenage boys on a Monday morning in July.

But there they were, hanging out on the front steps of the gymnasium at Eighth Street Middle. Plenty more were in the hallway behind the gym and they all seemed happy.

They all had a single reason for wanting to be on school grounds during the midst of summer: football.

Eighth Street has a team for each of its two grades. Erick Willis is in charge of the eighth grade squad.

He said that 110 kids came out Monday morning to practice. The sessions started in June and after a break were to run again from July 7-25.

They will be given some off time, the week school starts, but will be quickly back at it as their opener is an Aug. 16 scrimmage against St. Marys Middle at home. Five days later, Camden Middle visits. Both seventh and eighth will play against St. Marys with only the eighth taking on Camden.

Willis said that the seventh graders are slated to play six games, in addition to the scrimmage. There are seven regular season contests for the eighth. Conference games start up at the first of September. J.L. Newbern, Lowndes Middle, Coffee Middle, Pine Grove Middle, Hahira Middle and Cook Middle. Cook joined the region last year.

The players at practice are a variety of sizes, as puberty has yet to hit in some cases. Surprisingly, while their bodies have yet to finish — or in some instances, start — maturing, Willis said most came in with a well-developed football IQ. Thanks to the sixth grade program at J.T. Reddick, most were already very familiar with the game.

As opposed to teaching skills, "we're refining skills," he said. Only about 10 of the athletes had never played football before.

Practices last about 2.5 hours and players are developed beyond the grass of the field.

Eighth Street has a giant weight room and the strength program is the same as used as at Tift County High. As players are still raw in this department, Willis said they are working on developing form first. Already they are showing signs of getting stronger, he said.

There is a motto at the school among the coaches, Willis said.

"Let us coach your kids."

He said parents have been supportive, both of methods and in the stands. There has definitely been a payoff; the eighth graders have been undefeated for two straight years. Willis is confident they will be a tremendous asset to the high school team. "It's a good group of now-ninth graders," he said.

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Jensen Rainey (left) and Josie Arant will both be participating in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship next week in North Carolina.

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