Middle-school teams mix it up
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
VALLEY, Ala. – There’s a new head football coach at Long Cane Middle School, but the objective remains the same.
Long Cane’s eighth-grade team has been a perennial championship contender in recent years, and it won the league title last season.
Larry Murdock, an assistant at Long Cane for the past three years, has taken over as the head coach, and he led his team during a jamboree on Saturday morning at Ram Stadium in Valley.
The seventh-grade and eighth-grade teams from Callaway, Valley, and Gardner Newman middle schools also participated.
Each team played two 20-minute games in an event that for the past few years has served as the kickoff to a new season.
For Long Cane, the goal coming into the season remains the same, with Murdock having inherited the head-coaching position following the departure of Torre Pike.
“I was a part of championship teams, so I know what it’s supposed to look like,” said Murdock, who played football at LaGrange College where he received a degree in early-childhood education. “I understand that. That’s the standard, to win it, and if not, it’s a problem.”
Murdock believes Saturday’s jamboree was helpful, with the players getting an opportunity to test themselves against another team.
“I feel like it was extremely productive for the seventh-grade team, and my eighth-grade team,” Murdock said. “It’s always a good time when you go against somebody else. For each of our boys to come out and get an opportunity, it helps build a program.”
A key aspect of the middle-school program is preparing the players to play high-school football.
With that in mind, Murdock works closely with Troup head coach Tanner Glisson, who was at Saturday’s jamboree.
Glisson was on the sidelines, and he’d occasionally jump into a huddle to talk to the players, as well as the coaches.
“He’s out here showing the support,” Murdock said. “He’s out here trying to coach up the players, and the coaches at the same time.”
Gardner Newman also has a new head coach, with Marcus Blandingburg having been elevated to that position after Scooter Weathers left.
Blandingburg was a coach with the team last season, so he knows the players, and he’s been impressed with what he’s seen from them so far.
“I just have to give it up to these kids,” Blandingburg said. “We worked all summer in the weight room, and we just have to keep getting better day by day.”
Blandingburg added that “we’ve got great parent support this year.
“It’s just awesome. We’re just going to keep taking it day by day,” he added. “We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re going to keep working hard.”
One of Blandingburg’s primary goals as head coach is to strengthen the relationship the middle-school team has with the high-school program.
Blandinburg and LaGrange head coach Chuck Gibbs have worked together this summer to get the two programs on the same page.
“If we don’t get this fixed, LaGrange High will never get it fixed,” Blandingburg said. “So me and coach Gibbs, we’re on the same plan right now.”
While Long Cane and Gardner Newman haven’t played their season openers, Callaway kicked things off against Heard County on Wednesday.
Because of the quick turnaround between the Heard County game and Saturday’s jamboree, Callaway head coach Kerry Woodard rested some players who otherwise would have played a lot more.
“We told them all going in that we’re going to play everybody,” Woodard said. “We might not look good, but that’s what we were going to do.”
Callaway opened its season with a victory over Heard County, and Woodard felt his team’s depth had a lot to do with that.
“Heard has a good 11, but they turn around and have to play defense, so they got worn down,” Woodard said. “We’ve got 44 eighth-graders, and 24 seventh-graders. It makes a big difference.”
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