Most high school football teams in Georgia hold spring practice the second and third weeks in May, the first chance for teams to get a glimpse into the future. But in the two weeks prior, teams get a glimpse even further into the future by working with eighth graders expected to join the ranks next school year.
Around that time last year, when Robert Craft took over at North Forsyth, he didn’t even have ninth grade coaches for those eighth graders to get to know.
“We were just trying to keep our head above water,” Craft said.
It’s just one example for Craft of how different Year 2 feels in Coal Mountain.
After overhauling the coaching staff and offensive approach, the Raiders went 4-6 in Craft’s first season, missing out on the state playoffs in their regular season finale. The program’s strength and conditioning program was due next for an overhaul, so Craft set about doing that leading into this season’s spring practices, and he’s pleased with the progress.
“Our kids have done, I can't say enough, just an incredible job,” Craft said. “Participation, just their work ethic. We've tried to make this as hard on them as we can, and they've just responded really well knowing that was something they needed to get better.”
The biggest thing in need of an overhaul this spring was North’s defense, which lost several starters to graduation. Still, Craft is optimistic, particularly with rising senior linebacker Robert Faulkner and rising junior defensive back Honus Wagner, the unit’s leading returning tacklers.
“From a number standpoint, we lost a lot of contributors on defense,” Craft said, “but we really like the guys who are coming up.”
North’s offense won’t need an overhaul, not with experienced starters back at quarterback (Ben Bales), wide receiver (Charlie Aiken, Nicky Dalmolin) and offensive line (Jeremy James). A year more familiar with his roster, Craft expects to put rising senior tight end Clayton Bardall to better use. He’s also excited about rising junior running back Bryson Trigg, who had 127 carries as a sophomore and had a breakout season in track.
“Our offense we feel a lot more comfortable with,” Craft said.
That’s the generally feeling all around. At practice this past Monday, three days before the Raiders scrimmaged Roswell to finish the spring, Craft bounced from drill to drill, asking one of his assistant coaches if he got in a run that morning.
“Now everybody's kind of got their feet cemented and been able to really get to the next step for our program,” Craft said.