Before Steve Duncan and Mark Clark know it, their football teams will be starting the 2017 season against one another on Aug. 19. But before they can even think about that first game, each had to get accustomed to his new team.
Clark at McCracken County and Duncan at Paducah Tilghman were named as their schools' coaches during the spring, which made their two-week time to hold spring practices more important.
Both concluded their spring practices with a spring game, giving them a chance to see their teams in a game atmosphere.
Clark said his team's spring practice had as much to do with him learning each of the players' strengths and weaknesses as it did the players learning his coaching style.
"I wanted to see their willingness to learn and to adept," he said. "We have some pieces in place on offense and defense and at times we showed we can be a really good football team. Some of those things need to be refined in the summer, of course, but I like where our team is at. They seem to have bought in to what we are trying to do. They want to work and be successful."
Last season, McCracken completed its season with a 7-4 record in the most difficult schedule in the program's four years. Shawn Jackson, who had just wrapped up his second year at the helm, resigned to take a position in Georgia. That led to former Hopkinsville head coach Clark taking the reins.
He had just eight practices in his two-week practice session, but was able to give his team a basic understanding of defensive and offensive schemes.
"This team will be really solid. Every position is open right now," he said. "The players really embraced that everyone has a clean slate and jobs are open to compete for. I really like where we are at with our competition battles. Everyone will have to come to work every day."
McCracken's city rival, Paducah Tilghman, wrapped up spring drills of 10 practices, with Duncan's spring game giving him a chance to see what the team needs to work on during the summer. What Duncan wanted to see during the spring was how hard his team would work, and he came away pleased with the effort.
"You have to work hard, and that's important for us. Each and every one of them is important to us, and we still have a lot to learn," Duncan said. "We told them our goal is to be perfect like Jesus and perfect on the game field, too, so we're a long ways from that, but our main goal right now is to have a perfect practice. I saw a lot of positives in our practices."
Duncan inherited a team that finished 6-6, but had a five-game win streak toward the end of the season. Kurt Barber resigned after one year at the helm, which led to Duncan being the fourth coach in a five-year span at Tilghman.
Following his first practices as coach, Duncan said he saw players who lived up to his initial impression and others who were even better than he envisioned.
"I've had some guys who haven't been out and said they don't know anything. Well, they're just like everybody else, because it's new for everyone," he said. "We're trying to make it easy and to get enough repetitions. I really didn't think we'd be able to have a spring game, but we had a really good one."
Optional summer workouts will soon begin for both McCracken and Tilghman, as both teams await the July 15 date when mandatory practices can resume.
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