New Albany’s football team spent last Monday morning battling defending state champion Warren Central at its Indiana University team camp in Bloomington.
The Bulldogs took their lumps, but third-year coach Charlie Fields liked what he saw from his team.
“I saw more pep today even though you’re tired,” Fields told his squad in the university’s film room after scrimmaging Warren, Indianapolis Washington, Monrovia and Perry Central. “It wasn’t perfect, but we got better.”
New Albany’s second-year offensive line coach Josh Wells wasn’t as eager to hand out praise to his experienced offensive line. The Bulldogs return three seniors who will all be three-year starters entering 2014 and another senior who appears ready to step in.
Throughout the day, however, Wells reminded his linemen that they have work to do to help protect senior quarterback Zach Donan and make gaping holes for junior running back Derek Griffin.
“Not good enough!” Wells was heard yelling at his group during a scrimmage against Washington. “We’ve got to communicate.”
Wells explained, “The effort some times today just wasn’t good enough. I know we have another level. I know we have another gear.”
The offensive line may be the key to the Bulldogs having a successful follow-up season to last year’s 6-4 campaign. Conrad McCormick returns at left guard, Brent Barger at center and Scott South at right guard.
“I think our experience is going to be a big push for what we do this season,” South said.
“I have plenty of confidence in these guys,” Wells said. “Right now, we’re still building. It’s like building a house, we have to start at the foundation and build our way up.”
Juniors Chris Noe and Austin Godinez and senior Brandon Roberson also will fight for time left by the graduation of Austin Nevitt, Tyler Adams and Braxton Bragg.
“I feel like I can fit right in there with them,” said Roberson, who expects to start at left tackle. “I feel I’m capable, and if we have camaraderie with each other, I think we’ll be fine.”
Fields would like to have an offense that will be “much more balanced” after losing Tuwan Payton’s 2,177 yards and 24 touchdowns from a year ago. Donan has two years of experience under center and will throw to three-year starting receiver Julian Johns for what should be a potent New Albany passing attack.
Barger said having a quarterback with experience returning should help the offensive line’s cohesiveness.
“We’ve played with Donan for six years now all together,” he said. “We’re pretty close and we expect to get work done.”
They also will use a different style with Griffin, the expected replacement for Payton in the backfield. While Payton was fast and elusive, Griffin is a strong, bruising downhill running.
“Last year, [star running back] Tuwan [Payton] could overcome a lot of blemishes,” Fields said. “This year, I expect [the offensive line] to cover up any blemishes we may have.”
It’s been a strong summer for New Albany with 64 kids traveling to IU and an average of 86 at workouts. At Indiana, the Bulldogs worked with the Hoosier position coaches throughout the day along with scrimmages that were observed by the Big Ten coaches.
“We were better than I thought we would be today,” Fields said. “It was a learning experience and that’s what we need.”