Running drills

PRINCETON — A spectacular sunset filled the sky over Anne S. Hunnicutt Stadium in Princeton on Monday evening. The football team that calls that facility home was not outside to see it.

The Princeton Tigers were gathered in their locker room, going over formations and options for the upcoming season. In previous generations the session would have been called a “chalk talk.” These days, it’s more like a video seminar.

Whatever you may call it, it marked the end to a long, long day for the players and coaching staff.

The players had completed their only “two-a-day” practice routine of 2019. Most of the coaches had come to the field after a day spent in their schools as Mercer County Schools began a new semester. Though students do not report until Thursday, faculty were expected to be on the job all week.

“It was a long day for us,” head coach Chris Pedigo said on Tuesday as the Tigers embarked on day two of fall practice.

The team “came in with a lot of energy” on Monday morning, he said. “(We’re) looking forward to getting in the rest of the week, and to keep progressing.”

Senior quarterback Ranson Graham said, “I thought we had a good day (Monday). Everybody wanted to work, they wanted to get better, and they wanted to show they’re dedicated to this program, and to this year’s team.”

Fellow senior Brady Martin, a tight end, said that Pedigo has “brought a different mindset to the team, and showed us that we need to put in more effort, and work as hard as we can to get what we want.”

Another senior, AJ Jenkins, was a busy man, running out of the slot on offense and hovering behind the defense at free safety.

He said about the start of his final prep campaign, “It’s just kind of sad, knowing it’s my last year, but we’re all just going to go out here and have fun and do our best.”

“I think we’re going to be able to make some good plays this year and win some ballgames.”

Princeton, which was 1-9 last autumn, will field a dozen seniors this fall. Pedigo said they were providing “some good leadership. … We talk about being ‘high energy,’ and our senior class has done that so far.”

In addition, he said, “We’ve got some guys who decided to come back and play who I think are going to be able to provide us some meaningful minutes, and maybe even start. We’re looking forward to those guys.

“We’re excited about our young guys as they come in. We’ve got good numbers with our freshman and sophomore classes.”

When the roster shakes out for the start of the season, “We’re going to be, probably, in the mid-to-low-50s,” Pedigo said. “My goal this year, coming in, was 60. Better than last year; still not where we want to be. But we’re going in the right direction.”

He uses the team’s “flex days” of summer practice in June.

“With what we do with throwing the football, we go to a lot of 7-on-7s, a lot of preparation there,” the coach said. “We use (our flex days) in June, just because we want to be able to put in place our offense, and be able to get out there and work offense and defense, in June.”

“July is a big conditioning month for us. We had pretty good numbers in July. It transitioned into a good day (Monday), and we’re hoping it’ll continue to be a good week, and a couple of weeks coming, as we move into the season.”

Martin said, “We’ve been putting in a lot of work in the weight room, trying to get stronger, everybody pulling together. We’ve had some pretty good numbers.”

Since Mercer County Schools is having pupils report much earlier than most counties, the county’s prep football programs cannot squeeze in many two-a-day preseason practices. That could put the local schools at a disadvantage compared to counties in which two-a-days will continue into next week.

“Obviously, it’s tough,” Pedigo said. “We need all the practice time we can get – everybody does. We’re very inexperienced up front, and we need a lot of time on both sides of the ball, offense and defensive line. So that poses some challenges. But we’re all in the same boat, here in Mercer County, so we’re facing that accordingly, and we’ll handle it in stride.”

Four of Princeton’s first five games are at Hunnicutt Stadium, starting with a clash with county rival Bluefield on Sept. 6.

Martin is ready, already, for his fourth varsity season.

“I’m really just trying to make the best of my last season, just trying to have fun. Be with all my guys. Hopefully get some wins,” he said.

“We’re putting in the work right now, and if we can just come together, I think we can get some wins this year.”

Jenkins said his favorite part of fall is “just the hype of being under the lights — and being able to play football.”

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