JACKSON County football has picked up its pace these days — literally.
Nearing the start of the 2011 season, times in the 40-yard dash are faster across the board for the speedier Panthers thanks to their offseason regimen.
Following last season, Jackson County coach Billy Kirk made speed one of his no. 1 priorities. After bringing an NFL-experienced speed and strength coach, Greg Rhodes, Jackson County implemented a SpeedTracs system to develop overall team speed. The system allows a coach to train up to 40 players at one time. Now the Panthers, just 16 days away from their season opener against Johnson, are seeing the benefits of that installment.
“Overall, our team speed has dropped (gotten faster) tremendously,” Kirk said. “We may not be as big, thick and strong as we have been, but the ability to run — which is where this game is getting to — we’re as good as we’ve been at Jackson County in five years or better.”
Take, for instance, junior tight end River Bryant, who Kirk said could end up being a big recruit coming out of Jackson County by his senior year. Bryant has increased his speed in the 40 from a 5.7 last November to a 4.85.
Other examples include players like junior outside linebacker Sean Lee, who has lowered his time from 5.5 to a 4.9. “For us, that’s huge,” Kirk said. “When you see that big of movement in speed, that’s a big difference.”
The fastest player on the squad is junior running back Dustin Scott, who the Panthers expect to have a big season toting the football. Scott has lowered his time to a swift 4.4 in the 40 after running a 4.8 or 4.9 last year, according to Kirk.
“It’s unbelievable the difference in speed that we’ve made,” Kirk said.
Kirk said the overall athletic ability of the program is now visible in practice — so much that the coach said it’s “almost foreign.” But the goal is for it to be much less foreign. Jackson County’s entire program, including seventh and eighth graders, is using the same speed and strength program.
“Our middle school has been over here all summer with us,” Kirk explained.
Kirk believes the program is actually a little ahead of its speed goals in year one of SpeedTracs.
“They say it takes six months to a year,” Kirk said. “Well, we’re at that sixth month mark. We’ve still got some kids and some gains that need to be made, but overall it’s been tremendous, absolutely tremendous to watch.”
Kirk said the program had no choice but to get faster with Jackson County residing in the same region with blazing fast teams like Elbert County and Hart County and likely facing a move back up to Class AAA in 2012. Jackson County will find out over the next few months how much it has improved with its team speed when it clashes with its fellow region teams.
“Are we to the level where I’d want to be right this second? No,” Kirk said. “But are we getting there? Yeah, absolutely.”