WHITE HALL — When high school practices started Monday, White Hall football coach Mike Vaughn got to see his team really come together for the first time in nearly nine months.
The Bulldogs had never been at full-strength through all the offseason weightlifting, team camp and 7-on-7 work. The last time White Hall was at full-strength was a first-round loss in the 5A state playoffs to Mills last November.
After four days of practice, Vaughn said he is encouraged by how hard his players are working to get back into the swing of things.
“They are trying hard,” he said. “They are working really hard every single day. We really haven’t had them all together since the playoff loss to Mills. …
“I mean we haven’t had all four of our receivers since the Mills game last year, but the good thing is all of them played last year.
“As far as the whole team, the effort is there and the attitude is there. Everyone’s doing a great job.”
Senior Antoine Luster II also said the first couple days have gone well, especially considering how tough the weather can be this time of year.
“It’s been pretty good,” said the wide receiver/safety. “It hasn’t been too hot, but it’s hot enough you’re sweating a bit.
“Our trainer has done a great job making sure we get a lot of fluids.”
Luster, a pitcher, was a key contributor on the Bulldogs’ baseball team that won the 5A state title in May. White Hall’s successful baseball program was one of the factors that hurt participation in voluntary summer programs.
Besides Luster, a lot of the Bulldogs’ major contributors on the gridiron also excel on the diamond, including quarterback Kirk Baugh, tight end Daniel Sprinkle and wide receiver Turner Sparks.
Even though it hurts numbers during the offseason, Vaughn said he likes that his guys play other sports.
“If they are good enough, they might as well play everything,” Vaughn said. “Unless they are exceptionally talented, they aren’t going to play in college. And in that regard, high school is all about making memories, so you might as well do as much as you can.
“I know a lot of college coaches like seeing their guys (they recruit) in other sports. All the coaches here at White Hall are the same way.”
Baugh, who started last year on the football, basketball and baseball teams, said he likes that playing different sports keeps him busy.
“Every sport helps the other ones,” the senior said. “It keeps you in shape. I also really don’t have to make big adjustments. It only takes a few days to get back in the swing of things.
“Really, I just like it, because I’m always doing something.”
Aside from other sports and activities, the other major reason the Bulldogs have been short-handed since their first-round exit is the number of players working their way back from injury. In 2013, the offensive line alone saw at least three significant knee injuries amongst its rotation.
The injury with the biggest impact on the upcoming season, though, came after the end of the 2013 campaign as star running back Kendrick Edgerson tore his anterior cruciate ligament in December.
Edgerson enjoyed a breakout junior campaign totaling 1,288 rushing yards, 152 receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns. He earned a place on The Commercial’s All-Southeast Arkansas first team the same month he suffered the torn ACL. Now, just eight months removed from the devastating knee injury, Edgerson is closing in on being medically cleared to return to practice.
“He’s way ahead of schedule,” Vaughn said of Edgerson. “But we’ll still be fine with Courtney Anderson and Andrez Roaf. Anderson is a senior and he’s not big, but he’s quick as a cat. Roaf plays at nose guard and he’s like 150 pounds, so that shows you how tough he is.
“But we think Edge should be ready for the first game. If not, he should be ready for the second. If he can work the week before the first game, he’ll play Week 1 against Van Buren.”