Football is a year-round sport, and nowhere is that more true than with high school football in Texas.
From early August until the football season ends — which, if a team is good, might be in late December — teams are out on the practice field in pads and helmets working to get better.
But Class 5A and 6A schools also have the option to use 18 additional practice days in May, in exchange for one week of practice in August. Schools which take part in spring ball will start fall drills — which used to be known as “two-a-days” — a week later, on Aug. 14.
It’s a swap that Sherman head football coach J.D. Martinez is more than happy to make.
“It’s something that I’ve always been very fortunate to be part of,” Martinez said. “I’ve been at the 5A-6A level for most of my career, and in the places we’ve been at … we were able to do some spring ball and it’s a great time to evaluate kids, and also to look at the young kids and start finding out where they’re at and seeing what kind of depth we have.
“You also only get five days in fall camp if you don’t do spring ball. Five versus 18, I can subtract and see which is better. I won’t even go the full 18 days; I think that’s almost too much.”
Martinez said the Bearcats will actually only use 13 of the allotted days because of Sherman’s recent involvement in the baseball playoffs.
Some positions, such as running back Nathaniel Omayebu and wide receiver Tylor Jones, are no-brainers for Martinez. But others are wide-open due to graduation or transfers.
Participation has been high, with about 120 rising seniors, juniors and sophomores each day in practice on average. That doesn’t count incoming freshmen from Piner Middle School, some of whom have been invited to observe but can’t participate.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of my friends who are doing spring ball right now, and our numbers are really good compared to some other 5As who don’t have the numbers that we do,” Martinez said. “It’s reassuring. It makes me feel better about our situation.”
Sherman’s vernal activity will culminate with a Maroon-White scrimmage at Bearcat Stadium on Thursday at 7:15 p.m. The game will be preceded by SHS’ powder-puff game at 6 p.m.
Sherman is the only Texomaland school participating in spring football this year. Denison, under head coach Chad Rogers, opted to forgo spring ball and will start fall practice on Monday, Aug. 7.
Last year, Sherman skipped spring ball because Martinez, who was newly-hired, was still assembling his coaching staff.
But with a program in place and a year under their belts, Martinez and his staff are putting the extra time to good use. The Bearcats, coming off a 4-6 season and just missing out on a playoff berth, have several graduating players whom they must replace.
None is more important than three-year starting quarterback David Bedgood, a District 5-5A football first-teamer, baseball Most Valuable Player in the district, and Verde Dickey Award winner as best Bearcat athlete.
Bedgood will be taking his talents to the diamond at Tulane University, and his backup, Blaine Bethel, is also graduating, leaving no incumbent quarterbacks in camp.
The job of signal-calling appears to rest in the hands of rising sophomore Luke Langford.
The plan was originally for Langford and senior-to-be Ben Cross to compete for the job, but Cross — a two-year starter at defensive back and wide receiver — will be sidelined the next five weeks with a broken bone in his hand suffered during Sherman’s baseball playoff series against Grapevine last week.
Langford’s main challenge before Sherman’s home opener Aug. 31 against Sulphur Springs will be to win the trust and respect of his veteran teammates.
“If we had to play a game tomorrow, we’d roll out there with Luke Langford,” Martinez said. “Ben’s got to rehab that hand and we’ll see how he comes through, because once he gets it going, he’s behind the eight-ball. This is a great opportunity for Luke to take advantage of it and get all the No. 1 reps, and he’s doing a great job.”
Martinez said if everything else fails for Langford, get Jones the ball. Jones is Sherman’s leading returning receiver.
Junior Ladarren Sewell, who was a starter at cornerback last year, is lining up at slot receiver and has made huge improvements, Martinez said. Sewell will be one of several Bearcats who will be asked to play iron-man football and go on both offense and defense.
Omayebu had an impressive junior year in the Bearcat backfield, setting a school single-game rushing record with 312 yards against Frisco Liberty.
This year, with senior former fullback Brent Wilson shifting to defense, Omayebu will be joined in the backfield by Mike Wallace, who will be up from junior varsity.
“Nate averaged 18 carries a game last year,” Martinez said. “We’re looking for that to increase. When Nate does start to get a little gassed, Mike can get in there. We will lose a lot in size, but in running ability, Mike’s a talented young man.”
The offensive line has taken a hit with the pending graduation of Josh Schnitker, Justin Nichols and Hayden Hayes on the left side.
But replacements are at the ready with the return of Bret Boatright, John Cooper and Rudy Vasquez. Sophomore Jordan Lamondu will push for starting time at left guard and Mekhi Johnson-Berry is a candidate at left tackle or center.
The Bearcats have some other big kids coming in, namely sophomore Christian Smallwood, who is 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds.
“I think our linemen are going to be a part of our strength,” Martinez said.
The Bearcat defense, a big question for Martinez going into spring, has stood out so far.
Returnees Ty Rockins, Curtis Gay and T.K. Walton up front greatly assist a Sherman defense.
Jalyn Cotton, a first-team all-district honoree, is back at inside linebacker with Wilson sliding in to join him. At outside linebacker, first-team all-district selection Devante Clayton is back as well, with Cotton also shifting outside in the spring to suss out his capabilities. Cody Smith and Preston Moreno are also a couple of names to watch out for.
“We’re putting some pieces together,” Martinez said. “Those guys are more like cover guys, but we’re looking at those guys to help us on the outside.”
Sewell returns at cornerback with Cody Hunter, Landon Cole and Sincere Mosley in the mix. Returning starter Austin Bindel leads the safeties, with sophomore Gage Smith starting at the other safety spot.
Special teams is another spot where the Bearcats will be looking for someone to fill a job. Three-year placekicker Pedro Salvador is graduating, which opens up an opportunity for junior Joel Nandin to join a long list of successful Sherman kickers that goes back years.
The Bearcats won’t be done with football after spring practices are done — far from it. They’ll be playing in a 7-on-7 league in Pottsboro every Monday evening, and summer workouts start June 12 and will be going in two three-week sessions.
Injuries happen in football or any sport for that matter, but so far the only mishap on the gridiron has been a broken finger by Smith, which Martinez said happened on a pass that landed wrong off his hands.
“We don’t try to beat up each other,” Martinez said. “One of the things we’re teaching our kids here is how to practice and being smart and not taking each other down to the ground. We don’t cut our defensive linemen in the spring or the fall or anytime. We don’t cut our teammates.”