A mix of heavy metal, alternative rock and hip hop blared out of the speakers at Raider Valley Monday evening. For the few parents sitting in the stands during the Raiders’ first football practice of the summer-fall session, the amplified tunes seemed to orchestrate the pace and poetry on the field.
With players zipping in and out of drills, bystanders could point out which kids were winded by the new pace of practices at North Forsyth; others—a few upperclassmen—hopped from station to station while pretending to play the drums. A quarterback or two shared their lyrical familiarity and a smile with a coach as they went for water.
Between songs—during the five or six seconds of quiet—spit-filled screams of instruction snuck audibly into the atmosphere.
The juxtaposition of energy, urgency and tough love that was on display in Coal Mountain is at least, right now, a very welcome sight. After winning just two games a season ago the Raiders are going through a paradigm shift from a stationary, ground-based group of kids assumed to be too far north for talent to a band of believers.
First-year head coach Robert Craft, who won a state championship during his six successful years as head coach of North Florida Christian, knows that his system and style is different than what many of the North players experienced in the past. Even though the Raiders, like their rivals down the road at Forsyth Central, are going through a major coaching change, Craft doesn’t think his team will lose a step while making adjustments that some of the other county teams are exempt from.
In fact, if anything, he’s noticing that his players have turned up their attention with a new tune in their ear.
“I think our kids are really enjoying just being coached up. It’s a lot. The system we have here asks for a lot of attention to detail, but it’s almost like that’s something these kids have been waiting for,” Craft said.
During a package shift during simulated play a receiver was singled out for not having his glove strapped all the way on before stepping onto the field. It’s that type of efficiency and attention to detail that is standing out as North tries to shift from a slow-paced, power-heavy run offense to a quick, streamlined and pass-oriented attack.
“The biggest challenge right now is getting that football IQ up,” Craft said. “That’s not a bad thing, but it’s just that attention to detail that will take some work. Our kids have done a great job of doing absolutely everything we ask them to do since day one. We are going to continue to push them, and we love their attitude right now.”
The most noticeable change in the team’s makeup is at quarterback, where junior Ben Bales will look to give North an air-savvy offense. Bales showed off his potential early in a simulated seven-on-seven play when he threw a perfect seam pass to returning receiver Simon Holcomb from 35 yards.
Considering North players were overheard making comments about just running pass plays after last year’s season opener, it appears the wholesale changes have players anxious to get into an actual game.
But the learning curve is still large—the offensive line group was held on the field even after most of the coaches and players were getting in their cars.
Even though many of them, including nearly all of the starters, had been grilled by their coach earlier they still appeared engaged in the moment as the sun was well set in the distance.
This new type of football in Raider Valley, for now, appears to be music to the players’ ears. Showtime can’t come soon enough.