When asked what his primary focus has been during spring football practice this month, Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School Dennis Kizziah did not think long.
“Blocking and tackling,” was the answer before the question was barely in the air. “We’ve been so bad at blocking and tackling the last couple of years. We have to get better.
“And I’ve learned through the years of coaching that the kid who wants to do it will do it. The kid who doesn’t want to block or tackle, he just doesn’t need to be out there.”
That ethic is also part of what Kizziah has used during the 16 days – fewer due to weather in Wewahitchka – of spring practice to toughen his team, to put an edge in his red-and-white clad team.
“We are trying to make them tougher,” Kizziah said. “We have a lot of kids who have been out before so they understand what we are trying to do, but we have really had some practices where we have done a lot of hitting.
“Part of it has been the fewer days we’ve had, I would guess we have had about 10 good practice days. But we have been really doing some hitting on some days. We have had three or four pretty long practices, longer than I prefer, which involved a lot of just basic blocking and tackling.”
The Gators lost a few key seniors, but are likely to dress out just a handful of seniors this season.
Last year’s deep sophomore and freshmen classes are now the sophomores and juniors that will lead the team.
“We returned quite a few but we will still be young,” Kizziah said. “We also have some real good athletes.
“A real key is that we are returning our offensive line. That will be important.”
The Gators, who suffered through a tough three-win season last year, will also have quarterback Rashard Rainie, a dual-threat, back at quarterback.
Javar Hill, the tight end last year, will serve as the feature running back in the Wing offense.
“I am still looking for another running back,” Kizziah said. “Javar will get most of the carries and Rashard is dangerous on any down, but I would like to have another running back to take some carries.
“We have some good size and the kids come off the ball real well. We are going to just run it at them.”
The Gators also have found a kicker – after having no real kicker last season Kizziah said he has a senior and a freshman able to handle punting and place-kicking duties – and continue to put the pieces of the puzzle in place.
The effort, Kizziah said, has been there all spring.
“You know they are burned out from playing sports all year,” Kizziah said. “Most of our kids played baseball, so they are just a little worn out. But the effort has been there and the attitude has just been great.”
Spring practice ends tonight with the Spring Jamboree, which will feature the Gators opening the evening with two quarters of play against Franklin County and ending the evening with two quarters against Port St. Joe.
“We need to have some success in the spring game so we can just have a little confidence going into the summer and getting into the weight room,” Kizziah said. “The score isn’t so much important as I want them to see themselves on tape.
“We want them to see themselves on tape executing a block, then executing it again and then executing it again, showing them the improvement. We are looking for improvement and something to hang our hat on as we go into the summer.”
Kizziah said the playbook will be “watered down” a bit because the emphasis on blocking and tackling has meant less time working on the finesse and timing of the passing game.
What he wants to know at the end tonight is that he has 30 or so players amped for summer workouts and getting on the field in the fall.
“We are looking forward to playing (tonight),” Kizziah said. “I want to see how the kids will do faced against somebody else. They have hit each other enough.
“You want to make sure your kids are aggressive and they are doing what they have been shown.”
The Spring Jamboree will begin at 6:30 p.m. ET tonight at Shark Field. Franklin County will face Wewahitchka for two quarters and the Seahawks will play Port St. Joe for two quarters. The final two quarters will pit county rivals Wewahitchka and Port St. Joe.