Hardwick, Chargers more familiar with each other
Mike Hardwick, Oxford’s seventh-grade football coach, and his assistants had seen the names of the players for three days at that point, so new tape or ink wouldn’t be necessary.
Young football players who want to play for the Chargers this coming season took part in the camp that helps coaches get to know the players better.
“We started doing this several years ago and we’ve done it five or six times now,” Hardwick said. “We give them a helmet, put the tape on it and we start practicing. I don’t do anything with the sixth graders during the school year. I do seventh and eighth-grade PE, and of course do the coaching. So I don’t really know whom the sixth graders are.
“A lot of this is for the coaches as much as it is for the players. We do this in the summer to know who they are and what they can do. We give them extra reps and a taste of what we’re doing. It’s good on both ends. It helps us and it helps them.”
Both Oxford football teams at the middle school level have been very successful the past five years. Hardwick’s teams have only lost three games in four years, and he is expecting to have the largest team he’s ever had this fall. Sixty players took part in the three-day camp, and Hardwick thought another 12 to 15 could come out when school started. Large portions of the players have been exposed to the game through the Oxford Buccaneers, the youth team that is led by Dr. Michael Abraham.
“We also had a two-day camp in May to get to meet everyone, and we assume they like everything that we’re doing because they showed back up again,” Hardwick said. “I just feel like conceptually we figured out what we need to do to be successful. Part of that is the Bucs, part of that are these camps that we do before the year starts. The kids know what football is about before the first day they start middle school. They’ve probably already decided if this is for them or not. And likewise, we know that much more about their abilities before we get started.”
The process, Hardwick added, allowed him to feel good about what kind of a team he will have this coming season, even though he’s seen the players on a limited basis.
“We’ve been pretty successful and this has seemed to work well for us. I feel good about our team because it’s worked the last couple of years and I feel it’ll work again this year,” Hardwick said. “Dr. Abraham used to help us before Jack (Abraham, his son and current OHS starting quarterback) got off in to high school. He uses our numbering system and we use a lot of the same stuff. We teach the same things, so the Bucs is absolutely a crucial part of what we’re doing. Having said that, you don’t have to play that to play middle school football, but they already know what’s going on, they already know our terminology, our numbers and what we call things.”
Some of the players who came out for the camp had been playing football for three and four years through the Buccaneers. Hardwick felt that his numbers were also high this year because players want to have fun, and run the same type of up-tempo offense they see college teams like Ole Miss use to win games.
“Little kids want to do the stuff that they see on TV,” Hardwick said. “That’s what we tell our kids, we’re going to do the stuff that you see on TV. They want to run what they see on Thursday nights and Saturdays on TV. The last three years, we’ve thrown for more yards than we have run it, and you hardly see that in middle school football. There are teams that throw it 10 times a year, and we’ll throw it 20 times in a game.”
Last season, John Reece McClure, the Chargers’ quarterback in Hardwick’s system, compiled 22 touchdowns through the air. That figure doesn’t count all the extra points he scored completing passes to targets after the touchdown was scored.
Camp activities included 7-on-7 work and various drills. It also included some conditioning for the players; including a run around the field the players call “Superman.” Hardwick gives a prize to each player who can make the lap around the field at the school each of the days.
“We did give them a little incentive to do that. We tell the kids all the time, if you can’t move, you can’t play,” Hardwick said. “That’s kind of a big part of what we’re doing. It goes hand-in-hand because we go so fast. We’ve got to be in shape.”
If the numbers rise to the 75 mark that Hardwick thinks could happen, there is a chance the team breaks off for a few games and plays as an additional team at a different school during the week, in an attempt to get everyone action.
“It’s a great place to be to have that many kids that want to play football,” Hardwick said.