John Tyler Football Gets Adapted To 5 A.M. Preseason Practices
TYLER -- There's an old formula to farming a great football team during preseason camp.
The formula says to throw the kids into the 100-degree heat of August, let them burn and watch the cream rise to the top. But John Tyler head coach Ricklan Holmes marches to the beat of his own drum, avoiding all the inherent pitfalls that come with working out in Texas' absolute worst weather month from a safety standpoint.
"I love my kids," Holmes said after Wednesday's practice. "I've got to make sure I take the best possible care of them. Not having them in 100-degree weather is the first way to do it. That's what has made me decide to practice in the best possible weather."
Can he really be the toughest coach in East Texas? Well, yeah. He probably is.
Holmes doesn't ask guys to run below barbed wire or crush teammates play after play. However, he is a master of creating adversity by simply using the challenges of life to impose his will on the Lions varsity squad.
Practice this week has started each day at 5 a.m. Friday's will begin at 4 a.m. The team gets a nice break Saturday with a 6 a.m. start.
In-season workouts won't be much different. They're all going to occur before school. The only time the team will ever convene after lunch will be on game nights.
Waking up for it all is hardly the worst part. The challenge will be how to utilize all the freed up time in the afternoon.
John Tyler players have the unique opportunity to hold paying jobs during the season, and quite a few do. Regardless, there's homework to do.
Holmes' players are constantly having to adapt to changing circumstances while maintaining a routine. A routine that begins every single day with matching the fourth-year head coach's best team and ends with progress in other spheres.
"We're teenagers," junior quarterback Bryson Smith said. "We don't like to get up. But last year we started this and kind of got used to it, so it's not a major big deal now. We're just really dedicated to what we do. We're on a mission here and out there."
Expectations in North Tyler are high again this season. Two state semifinal appearances -- and only semifinal appearances -- the past three seasons under Holmes have the community restless for the championship appearance that has eluded them since 2000 and has not been won since 1994.
Compounding the situation is the fact former coach Dereck Rush left the program on the heels of a state semifinals appearance in 2011. So, make it three times in the past four seasons John Tyler has been left near the altar.
The football stuff has not been hard for the Lions so far in this campaign. With outstanding upperclassmen leadership and talent not far behind it, the program is running like a clean machine. At least here in mid-August.
Penalties for blowing preseason plays weren't so bad. But the session was layered with land mines for the guys to step on if they failed to follow simple instructions outlined for them in the first team meeting.
Two junior varsity players were sent home for not making the practice's first whistle. They showed up at 5:05 a.m.
Post practice conditioning also was a nightmare at times. John Tyler's athletes knew they had to count with the whistle even in mid-stride, but Holmes didn't like their tune several times and multiple segments of the final phase started over and over again.
Eleven new players to the starting lineup, including Smith at quarterback, are being commanded to be as good as the 11 they're replacing immediately.
That's where the specifics of Wednesday end and the long-term abstract really takes off.
"We have a motto around here," Holmes said. "' We don't rebuild. We just reload.' We're going to have the same outcome with just different players. We're going to get things done. We're going to be disciplined on defense, offense and special teams. We've got athletes. We've got guys that can make plays.
"What we've got to do, as coaches, is install discipline and consistency in them. That's what is going to overturn the better teams that we may face. That's what is going to help us accomplish our goal of winning the City of Tyler, winning the district and winning the state championship. Not just going to the fifth round. That is unsatisfactory for us."
It is shortly going to come down to the football stuff.
For now though, it's just about the framework.
"I'm not going to lie, I love this part of the process," senior receiver and returning starter Duntayviun Gross said. "Sunday night, I was real anxious. (Defensive tackle) Pierre Leonard stayed over with me that night to make sure we both got up, but we woke up even before the alarm. We were anxious to get going again. We have something to prove."