Spring training comes to an end Friday for the Hurst L.D. Blue Raiders with the annual spring football game at 6 p.m. at Pennington Field.
Bell head coach Mike Glaze, entering his third season, said 190 players turned out for spring football.
“I believe we will have around 65 to 70 on the varsity this fall,” Glaze said.
The Raiders improved from 1-9 in his first season to 3-7 in 2016. Returning from that group, Glaze said five saw significant time on offense and another couple on defense.
“I really don’t know that this spring is really that different from any other one. We are looking to find some guys to fill some gaps that were created by graduation,” Glaze said. “We want to find guys that want to compete at a high level, play with great energy and effort, and we want our kids to enjoy being a part of our program.”
There are, however, a couple of positions Glaze is looking at a little closer than others. He has his eye out for quality receivers and running backs.
“We have about eight or nine receivers right now who are competing for four varsity spots,” Glaze said. “At running back, we have two juniors and two sophomores who are competing for carries.”
Glaze said one who has probably stood out the most so far in the spring is junior Zion Hardy (5-10, 185 pounds). He is a much larger back than the Raiders have had the past couple of seasons.
Defensively, the Raiders were hit hard by graduation, so there are lots of opportunities on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary, Glaze said. Junior Chase Steelman (6-1 305) has been moved over to tackle and will play beside junior tackle Tyler Lilomaiava (6-0, 280) who moved in last spring and was a standout on the junior varsity.
“The secondary depth situation this spring is very similar to the competition at the receiver position,” Glaze said. “We have about eight or nine athletes vying for five starting positions in our 4-2-5 defensive scheme.”
Glaze said Austin Brougham, the returning starting quarterback, has a greater command of the offense. He also noted that receivers Aaron Bice, Markel Burnett and Michael Bernhardt have elevated their game in the spring.
“Defensive end Mike Dyson, who played really well towards the end of the season, has maintained that momentum this spring,” Glaze said.
Glaze added that defensive end Ernie Canales; linebackers Tyson Buxton and Josh Vakapuna; offensive tackle Dawson Holley; safeties Steve Ayisire, Michael Savaadra and Eli Ford; center Joel Kayoka; and running back Bennie Kabongo moved up from the junior varsity and could make an impact this fall.
“We also have a few current freshmen that will be moving up to Bell this fall that could see significant time under the lights,” he said.
But Glaze said the spring is more than getting extra workouts.
“I think that learning how to compete, developing confidence in your abilities and understanding of schemes and team camaraderie will hopefully carry over in the fall,” he said.
And first it must carry over into the summer.
“Every year, the summer ‘break’ is critical to success in the fall. As a 6A program, we must have strong participation in our Summer Dedication strength and conditioning program, along with football extracurricular activities like 7-on-7, lineman challenges, team building activities, etc.
“Our athletes really enjoy both 7-on-7 and lineman competitions, so we will definitely compete in those this summer. I feel that the skill development, team building and additional opportunities to compete are priceless.”
Glaze said that while the spring practices have been hard work, they have also been fun. Practices were held at all three junior high feeder schools, speakers were brought in to enhance character development and activities such as Wear Your Own Jersey Day were held, along with having Italian ice for after-practice treats.
“Our football booster club has worked hard to help us make it fun for the players,” Glaze adding that it’s not over yet, as there is a special treat following the spring game.
“There will be a family cookout afterwards back at L.D. Bell on the slab,” he said.