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Willis calls 2014 camp “best yet” for Panthers

Written by John Dupont on .

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LUMBERTON, Miss. – Temperatures may have provided some relief, but the workload for the Brusly Panthers remained very much the same last week at the annual football boot camp.

The 2014 pre-season training extravaganza marked the third in so many years for Brusly, which practiced with three other schools Thursday through Sunday at Kings Arrow Ranch, just off Interstate 59, about 30 miles south of Hattiesburg.

“This was our best camp yet,” head coach Erik Willis said. “They looked sharp and had a lot of enthusiasm out there. They looked the best they’ve ever looked at this point.”

The training routine did not lack the intensity of other sessions, but the temperatures made the drills far more bearable.

A cool front that passed through the area two days earlier brought daytime highs only in the mid-to-upper 80s with low humidity, a stark contrast to the temperatures that hovered near the 100-degree mark last season, with a heat index that make the temperatures even more unbearable.

The morning practice drills were even more pleasant. Players kicked off a 6 a.m. session amid temperatures in the lower 60s.

Much of the focus for the coaching staff centered around the battle for the quarterback position, pitting juniors Evan Daigle and Connor Manola in competition for the spot left vacant by Connor’s older brother Blake.

Coaches chose to put Manola in the No. 1 slot, but only for organizational purposes, Willis said.

“We did that just for practice organization, but that battle is still there,” he said. “Nothing has been established.

“We’re very fortunate to have two good quarterbacks,” Willis said.

For the team in general, the camp poses its share of challenges, even if it’s not the first time.

“It’s a lot more intense, we work harder and we learn a lot more,” sophomore cornerback Dominique Tate. “The hardest part is probably that we have to get up so early, but it gives us a chance to work out without all the distractions.”

It’s not just the physical challenges that affect the players.

“They expect us to know a lot more and learn a lot more,” junior running back Christian Henderson said. “It’s also tough physically because the practices are so much longer, but it’s good because we can really compete for our positions. It’s very good for the team.”

The practices themselves pose a different challenge to players, particularly the newcomers, one coach said.

“It’s not a vacation,” Chris Raymond said. “Kids think they’re just going to a regular summer camp, but then realize that it’s work.”

From the coaching standpoint, it all boils down to keeping a psychological edge over the players.

“The hardest part is to come up with new and different ideas for the kids,” assistant coach Garrett Ford said. “What helps is that the kids are very well prepared, both physically and mentally, which makes our jobs much easier.

“This camp is the first building block, and we’re down here putting down basic offense and defense and giving the young guys reps,” he said.

The challenge for coaches comes from figuring how to change up the event from year to year.

“We were sitting around until around midnight trying to figure how to change it because there’s only so many ways to build a wheel,” assistant coach Chris Raymond said. “But we figure that it goes a four-year cycle, and at least we have another year to figure things out.”

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