Usually, by mid-October, college football programs have reached the midpoint of the season, assessing where they are, how they got there, and where they are headed. Or, to quote an old western movie, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
For the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff football team, as well as the other nine counterparts in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the fall means the spring, and vice versa.
In this Covid-19 world, fall football in SWAC 2020 means spring football, the traditional period of 15 days of practice to prepare for the season now occurring in October with an eye toward anything but Spring 2021 season that will in late winter.
Prior to the coronavirus shutdown, new UAPB head football coach Doc Gamble opened spring practice on Tuesday, March 10. On Wednesday, March 11, everything stopped as the UAPB campus closed due to the exposure of a student to the virus, just hours before the NBA shutdown, leading to a falling domino-like effect of sport shutdowns that led into the summer.
As UAPB navigates blended instruction of in-person and online classes this fall and likely for the foreseeable future, Gamble and his staff have operated within those parameters and new structure of position and team meetings in teaching the system.
Last week, a sense of normalcy returned as the gridiron Golden Lions began the first of those aforementioned ‘spring’ practice sessions in preparing for the February 27 opener against Texas Southern at Simmons Bank Field.
“This is the most fun part of the day,” Gamble said with a big smile through his mask following Monday’s practice. “Like I just told the guys – we (as coaches) sit around the office and worry about what they are doing throughout the day and we are in here trying to reinvent the wheel.”
Within that fun, Gamble also realized that despite all the zoom and in-person meetings that it was important to be a bit more deliberate with the pace practice.
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“However, when you get out here, you realize you have to slow everything down, get back to teaching the basics, and fundamentals of everything. It feels good to reintroduce things on the field, some of the things we’ve done in the past with some of the new things we’re doing, and it’s great to see everyone running around.”
While it’s year three for Gamble in the Golden Lion football program, it’s year one as head coach, as he had added several new faces to the staff, and moved others into new roles and responsibilities. That, combined with a very experienced roster returning, has made for a smooth transition.
“The plus part of not having the guys in has been we get to teach them plus the new players our language,” said Gamble of some of the new terminology implemented into the programs’ on-field schemes. “Right now, they are speaking our language. Usually, with a new staff, you must teach everyone a new language. Well, that’s already been done. The new coaches are speaking our language, so the players aren’t missing a beat. The base concepts are still the same and that’s key for us right now. At times, some of the players are teaching the coaches the concepts, which emphasizes we have an intelligent group of guys.”
With four practices under the belt, Gamble is pleased with the progress the team has shown.
“From day one to now, the practices are a lot sharper, which is what you expect, for each practice to get better and crisper,” Gamble said. “Some of the early practice concepts that we’ve done for the past two years are still in place, so they are getting back in rhythm. We tell them all the time – don’t let your mind tie up your feet. Still go fast, go as fast as you can, and we’ll get you lined up and tell you where you need to be.”
Courtesy: UAPB Athletics