New season, new coach
Southern Lee students still have a few more weeks of summer vacation before heading back to class. Nonetheless, there was a lot of teaching going on as the Cavalier football team, under new head coach Don Simon, had its first official practice Thursday morning.
As with hundreds of football practices across the state, as Aug. 1 was the first date for all fall sports practices starting for NCHSAA schools, Simon and his staff were coaching conditioning, agility, discipline and proper techniques.
Doing everything the right way, no matter how seemingly small, down to how to clap during stretching, and getting it right every single clap, is part of improving a program which went 6-6 and made the 3A state playoffs two seasons ago, but went 2-9 overall and 1-5 in the Cape Fear Valley Conference last fall.
"Everyone rowing the boat together," was the main idea Simon gave his charges between getting loose, on an unseasonably mild, bordering on cool for August, morning, and starting on a series of mobility drills. "Quick," "drive" and "burst" were popular demands given by Simon and his assistants during those drills.
Simon accepted the Southern Lee job in February, coming from South Florida and six years as head coach at Flanagan High School in Broward County. He led Flanagan to its first winning season in 18 years as a program and was 25-15 in his last four seasons there. Prior to Flanagan, Simon started a football program from scratch at Miami's Ronald Reagan High School.
While making sure practices will be done his way, there was some positive motivation, too.
"That's not bad for a kicker," said Simon to kicker Ethan Helsman as he cut and accelerated around a tractor tire. Simon was a kicker and punter collegiately at Dakota State in South Dakota.
Per NCHSAA rules, football programs must use the first five days of the official preseason for physical conditioning. The first two days, players are in helmets, shorts and no pads. Shoulder pads are allowed, but no full contact isn't allowed, for days three through five of practice.
The practice rules leave a few days of full-contact workouts before scrimmages get going. Southern Lee will travel to Orange for a scrimmage at 6 p.m. on Aug. 12, then play in the Harnett County Jamboree at 6 p.m. Aug. 16 at Triton. The Cavaliers will kickoff their regular season at Western Harnett on Friday, Aug. 23.
The Cavs and Eagles are no longer Cape Fear Valley rivals, thanks to NCHSAA realignment for 2013-17. Southern Lee will play five non-conference games in a row prepping for six CFVC games. The new Cape Fear Valley is Southern Lee, Lee County, Douglas Byrd, Gray's Creek, Terry Sanford, Union Pines and Westover.