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Why spring football? Because the coaches want it and like it

Although there are many detractors, coaches say May practices give them time to evaluate and experiment that they wouldn't have in the fall.

By CAREY FREEMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2000


Despite its many detractors and the fact Florida is one of the few states where it is still in practice, spring football lives on.

Why, you ask?

Easy. Because those most affected by the three-week training session every May -- football coaches -- also are its biggest supporters. Fact is, the annual sessions are an invaluable tool for many of Florida's head football coaches.

Some also assert that the extra practice is at least partly responsible for the high level of talent in the state and the large number of scholarships awarded to Florida players.

But Citrus head coach Larry Bishop isn't thinking about that. All the second-year coach knows is his job would be a lot harder without spring practice.

"It would be a nightmare," Bishop said, "because you'd have so many kids who haven't had any kind of football experience. And you've got to try to get them on film and give them reps as compared to the kids who've been with you. Logistically, it would be a nightmare."

And that -- logistics -- is really the crux of the argument presented by supporters of spring football. For those who claim the 20-day period is too short to get anything of substance accomplished, coaches like Bishop say "poppycock."

"I've heard the different arguments against it," Bishop said, "but for me personally, I'm for spring football.

"We don't use spring to implement our offense and defense. We put some basic stuff in, but mainly we want to see what kids can do. Can they block? Can they tackle? We watch their contact courage. Those are the type of things we evaluate."

That evaluation process is like gold to football coaches, who almost never seem to have enough time to prepare, be it for an upcoming game or the upcoming season.

Take Crystal River. The Pirates are expecting as many as 69 players (junior varsity and varsity) to show up this spring. But if past seasons are any indicator, Crystal River will probably suit up no more than 35 when the first game rolls around in September. That leaves the coaching staff with a lot of decisions and weeding out to do before the beginning of fall practice in August.

"We use it to get the squad set for the coming year," said Crystal River coach Earl Bramlett. "It gives us an opportunity to really work on fundamentals and practice without having to get prepared for a game. It would make our job a lot harder if we didn't have it. And if we had to do that in the fall, we'd have another 20 or 30 from middle schools too."

Florida is one of 13 states that allow spring practice and one of only nine that allow full-contact drills. In Florida, teams are given 20 days of practice from May 1, but the first three must be non-contact.

For Bishop and Bramlett and their players, spring football offers a loosened atmosphere that also allows for some experimentation, which both admit has paid off handsomely in past seasons. For instance, Citrus offensive guard Bobby Harmon will get a chance to play fullback this spring, and if successful, could move into that spot in the fall.

Bramlett takes that a step further, giving the players freedom to pick their positions for the first week of practice.

"The first week we let kids go out for anything they want to," Bramlett said. "We may have a guy who has always been a tackle and wants be a fullback, so we let him go out and try it for a week. Or, we may have a tight end who wants to be a split end, so we'll let him do that for a week. I've found some real good people that way."

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