Takeaways from this week's 7-on-7 football scrimmage hosted by Midway.
SPIVEY’S CORNER — Play calls, cheers and whistles could be heard well outside the gates of Tommy Sloan Stadium Wednesday.
Following an unprecedented sports stall last summer, Triton coach Ben Penny was still in a state of disbelief after watching his team play in the 7-on-7 jamboree scrimmages against Lakewood, North Lenoir and host Midway.
“Oh, I love it, man. We’re going strong right now and sometimes I’m like, ‘Are we doing too much?’ And then I’m like, ‘No, this is normal — and it’s awesome,’” Penny said.
“Our kids are starting to get back into the groove. We were concerned about them having so much time off and not understanding what it takes during the summer to get better every day ... and they’re here and they’re doing it.”
With COVID-19 infections statewide nearing all-time lows, North Carolina High School Athletic Association programs are able to regain a somewhat regular offseason routine, which is a stark contrast to the heavily restricted workout instructions last year.
Midway coach Cory Barnes has hosted the multi-team scrimmages since taking over the program a few seasons ago and says Wednesday was a good first step for what he hopes is a productive summer.
He added that his biggest focus has less to do with what happens on the field than what needs to be done off of it.
“These guys have really missed a whole summer of the weight room, so we’re a little behind on that with some of them. But they’re getting there and that’s the main thing,” Barnes said.
“A lot of them just got done playing other sports ... and they need to go on vacation and be kids, too. It’s all a complicated balance, but having them here and being able to compete is the best thing they can do right now.”
Penny was in line with Barnes when it came to improving his group’s strength and speed to the ball. He says the team has installed a lot of x’s and o’s this month and July will be strictly dedicated to strength development and conditioning to prepare for a busy August schedule.
The Hawks’ youth was on display throughout most of the day, down a few veteran starters due to graduation and lingering injuries. Penny did feel his secondary was in the right position on most plays, as seen by Elijah Holmes’ interception against Midway on a deep pass down the left sideline during the evening’s first scrimmage.
Raiders quarterback Wyatt Holland was one of the few familiar faces for a unit that lost top starters at wide receiver and running back to graduation.
“I was letting him call plays half of the time. Just getting a feel for the wide receivers and getting a feel for how they work and how he would call a game,” Barnes said of the rising senior who was named top passer for this year’s All-Record Football Team after ranking fifth in the state with 1,977 yards through the air.
While Midway’s younger players got an opportunity to feel out the new digs, veteran wideout Nate Smith was a guiding force.
The 6-1 receiver showed comfortability downfield and caught multiple touchdown passes throughout the three scrimmages.
“Nate Smith is probably going to be our No.1 threat deep. ... We do have that safety blanket, but he’s also got to be the man in play,” Barnes said.
Though the 7-on-7 format doesn’t suit Triton’s run-based offense, Penny says the experience was important for his young crop of talent that includes first-year quarterback Jalen Evans.
The junior dual-threat consistently found some openings in the intermediate game to Holmes and a collection of other shifty Hawks pass-catchers.
“We have a lot of new players in skill positions on offense, but we’re confident in them. And as long as they continue to work hard like they did tonight ... we’re gonna be happy,” Penny said.
Both teams are expected to be in attendance Aug. 11 when Triton hosts the Harnett County football jamboree.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040.