Even Simon Holcomb was a little bit wide-eyed Monday afternoon.
In a dry, overcast, and only moderately hot air at Coal Mountain, the new-look North Forsyth football team didn't have anything other than the elements between their ears to worry about, but that doesn't mean they were without worry as the first day of spring practice was underway.
Players were sprinting from drill to drill, switching from play to play and if they weren't in a huddle they needed to be in a huddle somewhere else. It was a paradigm shift for North's players adjusting to the new regime under first-year head coach Robert Craft.
Luckily for Holcomb, he naturally moves at the rate he's expected to on the practice field. He's quiet, calm, collected, and even though he's a rising senior his diminutive stature at 5-foot-10 blends him into the rest of the crowd.
As he approached the slot to run a route his eyes widened to the point that they were protruding out of his facemask. He adjusted his stance ever-so-slightly and took off on a bench-route.
While other players, especially newcomers, received ovations from the team as they made impressive catches, Holcomb's snag—a highlight of practice—didn't draw much noise. An impressive catch is business as usual for Holcomb, but this summer he's still putting the pressure on himself.
“Learning the plays. That's the hardest part right now. Everything is moving pretty fast,” Holcomb said, catching his breath after practice. “We've got all sorts of new terms and hand signals and stuff, it's crazy.”
Holcomb hasn't seen much consistency during his time at North. The Raiders made the playoffs when he was a freshman, but in his sophomore and junior years they won just three games and lost 17. Now the team has a new coach, a new offense, even new lids – and a new attitude.
“We want to make the playoffs. That's all I really want, and hopefully make a run,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb is a man of very few words – it's a testament to his focus. Last season, as a junior, he was used as a utility player from the wingback position in North's run-based offense, but his lone presence gave the Raiders the ability to throw the ball.
As a receiver he caught 37 of the 76 receptions the team made all season. He averaged 15.9 yards per catch and scored five touchdowns through the air, while also rushing 113 times for 678 yards and four more scores. He even threw the ball a few times.
But this year will be different: In the new scheme he's chosen to play solely as a wide receiver, something unprecedented before Craft's arrival. Asked about his adjustment, he grinned and spoke shortly.
“I get to go deep more. I like going deep,” Holcolmb said.
Holcomb's entire focus is football. He plays travel baseball, but doesn't play for the high school team. He also has a history of running track, but he doesn't suit up for the track team. He will, however, meet members of North's dangerous 1,600 relay team down at the track whenever he can to run.
“I can keep up with them, until they get around about four laps,” he said. “I just was told I was fast.”
His athleticism is apparent, but a new challenge heading into his final season awaits: The quiet-mannered slot man is suddenly one of the lone seniors, and players are looking up to him. For Holcomb, his plan to establish seniority is simple – let his actions speak louder than words.
“I've got to make sure I'm on top of everything,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb hopes his love for football can take him into college. He says in a perfect world he'd play for Georgia or South Carolina—Georgia, because they're local, and South Carolina because he likes the uniforms. He also wants to study criminal justice in college, wherever he ends up. He thinks he's going to be ready for college, especially considering the studying he has to do this summer.
“This playbook,” he repeated. “I've got to get this down.”