MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Huntingdon football team picked up the tempo a little more Monday morning for the first practice in full gear. The first day of full contact went pretty well, but head coach Mike Turk said it was obvious this was the first day of full-speed drills.
"We do so much work in shells the first four days, the hardest part for me is to not blow my whistle until the play is really over," Turk said. "Tackling is something you really have to work on at the start of the season and it's hard to get enough work in that area. But we moved around and got after each other pretty well. We've still got a long way to go and we're making mistakes on both sides of the ball. But we're starting to show more focus, even when we're tired. The only way to get through it is to keep working."
Turk said it's important to have leaders setting the tone as preseason practice continues.
"This is the time when that's the toughest," Turk said. "It's very difficult, when you're hurting and tired, to encourage everyone else. We don't have enough of those guys yet, but we've got some that are setting the tone."
One such leader is senior running back Trevor Manuel. A second-team preseason All-American this year, Manuel is the Hawks' career leader in rushing yards (2,075), rushing attempts (428) and rushing touchdowns (27). Last season he rushed for 973 yards and 15 touchdowns on 222 carries. Manuel's numbers in each category last year are the second most in a Huntingdon season.
Manuel also caught 24 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns, passed for 100 yards and four touchdowns, returned 15 punts for 109 yards and seven kickoffs for 160 yards. He finished the season ranked 24th in Division III with an average of 153 all-purpose yards per game.
"Trevor is a really good player but he's also a competitor and I think that's what makes the difference with him," Turk said. "He wants to win every play, in a game or in practice. If he runs five plays, he's not satisfied with winning four of them. He wants to win all five.
"That sort of attitude, or spirit, is contagious. When other guys see one of our best players and the energy he brings to the table each day, the emotion he plays with and how much it means to him, that helps tremendously and helps set a standard."
Turk said junior running backs Garrett Fletcher and Austin Bennett are emerging as reliable backups and that several younger players are showing potential.
"Fletcher and Bennett have the most experience behind Trevor. They're still working and learning, but they're ahead of the rest of the guys right now in their understanding of what to do," Turk said. "We've got some younger guys working to learn the offense. As they become more comfortable with what we do, I think we will have some good young backs and we'll be able to develop a little depth."
Huntingdon returns to the field for its sixth preseason practice at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.