Blackman began its first prep football practice this week with 114 players on its varsity team.
Across town, Oakland bolsters a varsity roster of 106.
To some, that roster may be too high. But to their respective coaches, the size is something they will handle if a high school athlete is willing to put in the time in the offseason and in practice.
“I think all of the big schools in Rutherford County are high in numbers,” Oakland coach Thomas McDaniel said. “I think we all have the same philosophy. If a player does what we ask of them, they deserve to get a helmet. If they do the work and get through the offseason and the summer then they deserve to get to play football.”
However, that can make it challenging for coaches.
Blackman coach Philip Shadowens will adjust his practices this year in an effort to allow more coaches to work with players. The defensive coaching staff will work with the freshmen and younger players during offensive portions of varsity practice. The offensive staff will then work with the younger players when the defensive coaches work with varsity players.
Counting freshmen, there are about 180 players in the Blackman High football program.
Riverdale used the same philosophy last season and had success with it.
“It’s a matter of being organized,” Shadowens said. “We’re big on having a lot of tempo. I believe in keeping practice close to two hours, so we’ve got to be very organized.
“If you don’t do it that way, you are going to have large groups at a certain position that may not get work. But during varsity time we’ve got to focus on the kids that give us the best chance to help you win ball games.”
However, Eagleville coach Steve Carson doesn’t have the luxury of a large coaching staff. While the six Rutherford County large schools that comprise District 7-AAA have staffs of about 15 coaches, Carson’s staff includes five assistants.
Eagleville’s roster is currently at 72 up from 56 in 2011.
“It’s a huge increase for us,” said Carson, whose team is coming off an 11-1 season and the program’s first Class 1A state quarterfinal appearance. “Everybody likes to be a part of either a team or business that has had some success.
“We’ve had that.”
Shadowens estimates that it costs about $500 to dress out a football player. That includes practice and game jerseys, helmets, complete pads and shoes. But that’s just not all the costs involved.
The increase in players will force Carson to bring a second bus to games this season as the team just barely had enough seats last season. Last season Eagleville’s assistants carpooled separately to games because of lack of space on the bus.
Now, there is no other option but to get added transportation.
“That’s just part of it,” Carson said. “I’m glad that we’ve got the numbers we have.”
That cost can be made up in fundraising. But Shadowens said he tries to limit his fundraising. Instead, Blackman uses money from ticket receipts to make up for the cost of added gear.
“We’re fortunate to have a lot of people come to our football games,” he said. “We’re able to function that way. We do a couple of fundraisers, but I don’t believe in a lot of that. I don’t like asking families to do that so I try to limit that.
“Instead we depend on our fans and student body that comes to our games.”
La Vergne coach Stanton Stevens said his roster will be at about 65 this season. That’s the minimum of where he’d like to be at. He prefers a roster between 65-85. He thinks once a roster gets over 100, it’s hard to manage. However, he won’t cut a player.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Stevens admits. “Once you get over 85 I think it can be hard to manage all of those guys and to keep them focused.
“You don’t want it to be a distraction. I don’t think our numbers will ever be at 100.”
He said usually players will cut themselves by failing to make the commitment needed to be part of a high school football program.
“Sometimes making the transition from youth league football to middle school and high school is difficult because they don’t understand the level of commitment.
“It’s hard to be part of a program and not be committed with the time requirement.”
McDaniel said when he first came to Oakland prior to the 2008 season getting more athletes to play football was a priority.
“We wanted to get them from walking the hall and get more people wanting to play football.”