They remained on the field while the rest of the squad headed for the locker room.
For several minutes, the Golden Eagles’ second-year coach challenged the 17 players to keep the program headed in the right direction for their final season of high school football.
Smith discussed hard work, dedication and being ready for practice every day.
“I talked about leadership and doing the things that we need to do to take the next step in our program,” said Smith, whose team went 5-5 last year. “We need to do everything we can to keep the momentum going to get better.”
And although Jacksonville has such a large upcoming senior class, the Class 4A program also has 15 incoming freshmen, who will fill important roles if injuries occur. Those young players will need leadership.
“For us being the senior class, we’re going to have to step up and give leadership,” junior offensive lineman Reid Hobbs said. “Hopefully, that freshman class can come up and continue a tradition.”
The Golden Eagles’ leadership will have an opportunity to show what they’re trying to accomplish Thursday in the Spring Football Showcase at Jacksonville State. The Golden Eagles will face Wellborn at 7:30 p.m., while Saks will play Weaver at 4 p.m. On Friday, Pleasant Valley and Ohatchee will face off at 4 p.m., with Alexandria and White Plains playing at 7:30 p.m.
Regarding Wellborn, junior running back Dominique Thomas said, “We don’t know much from only watching film a little. We know that they’re going to play hard and get after you.”
While Jacksonville has 14 returning starters, including eight on offense, Wellborn will be led by its second quarterback in five years, Landon Machristie. The Panthers also have dynamic duo tailbacks Kevin Mixon and Chantz Goodman as well.
“They run a lot of formations and double-wing stuff that is tough to defend, especially in nine days of practice,” Smith said. “It’s been a challenge to make sure we’re lined up right in this short amount of time, especially with the youth we have. Hopefully, by game time we’ll understand our assignments and be ready to play.”
Jacksonville’s eight returning starters on offense include Hobbs, quarterback Jackson Bell, athlete Sid Thurmond and Thomas.
“It’s good knowing we still have mainly the same people on offense,” Thomas said. “But losing two offensive linemen, you may think it’s much until you get out here and see what you’re working with and realize it’s something you need to fix.”
However, defense is where the Golden Eagles are looking for new faces, after losing three linebackers, a safety and two defensive linemen.
“I guess you could say we have a young defense experience-wise, but with the right coaching we could turn this into a better defensive class than what we had last year,” Hobbs said.
The optimism Hobbs holds comes from the chemistry he has seen from the team this spring. That chemistry also has the Golden Eagles “hyped up and ready for the spring game.”
While the game against Wellborn will help the Golden Eagles evaluate how they are doing this season, last season’s conclusion is still fresh on the minds of players. Jacksonville lost its final four games, including three in 4A, Region 5, just missing the state playoffs. In the Week 9 Alexandria loss, Thomas suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
“We wanted to make sure from day one that we had a chance to get in at the end of the year. We wanted to be playing for a chance to get in if we weren’t already in,” Smith said. “In Week 9 last year we still had a chance to get in the playoffs, but the crazy thing about our region is we went from first place to fifth place in two weeks. That’s just how tough it is.
“We just want to have a chance to get into the playoffs because we know if we get in then we’ll be battle tested by as tough as our region is.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star