Madison: not your ordinary beach vacation
story by Greg Sullivan
photos by Angelina Bellebuono
School's out so it should be a perfect time to hit the beach. The Morgan County football team thinks so.
But here's the catch: their coaching staff thinks their time in the sand may lend them a competitive edge under the lights this fall, and they're not talking about sun tans or singing Jimmy Buffett at the closest karoake.
O.K., so the moniker "Bulldog Beach," as dubbed by coaches, may be a little misleading. The sand pit, 35 yards long and five feet wide, located behind the team's practice facility, is designed with the clear intention to make players faster, reduce injuries and help them change direction more smoothly on the field. This, of course, spells out hard work.
"Every year we see that we aren't as fast as everyone we're playing," said Bulldog Head Coach Bill Malone. "We hope this will bridge the gap."
Surprisingly enough, aside from the presence of sand, there is one additional thing that the Dogs' newest training facility has in common with a beach vacation--the players appear to enjoy their time there--or at least the results.
"The most interesting thing is the kids like it," Malone said. " They compete well out here."
Bulldog Beach has only been around since March, but so far the players share their coach's enthusiasm for the sand.
"I'm getting faster out here than I've been," said Bulldog senior Brandon Rivers Monday morning during a summer workout.
Agreeing was sophomore free safety Drew Stapleton, "It's making us much better at change of direction," he added
Then Rivers added, "It helps with all aspects of the game."
Morgan County Defensive Coordinator and Strength and Conditioning Coach Clint Jenkins said he sees a lot of benefit coming from the facility addition.
"The really neat thing is that not a lot of high schools have this," Jenkins said. "You see this at UGA, not at most high schools."
And Jenkins knows his share about sand pits, having experienced them first hand during his time with the US Marine Corps.
"It provides big, heavy resistance and offers kids more ankle and knee stability," Jenkins said.
"You're always thinking about making them stronger, but a lot of it is thinking about keeping them healthy."
Talks of bringing such a facility to Bulldog Country have been in the works for a while now.
Malone said he first saw a football team training in a sand pit back in the late nineties at a Georgia Southern practice.
"[Since then] it's always been in the back of my mind," said Malone. "For seven years the idea has been batted around."
Now that it's a reality, the transition for players has been relatively easy. Malone said, for the most part, the same footwork drills the team has been partaking in on the field are the ones they do in the pit. The hope is, though, that the change of venue will allow the team to reap bigger dividends.
Still, this isn't a time for letting the imagination run wild. The beach motif isn't likely to extend much further than the sand and the name.
When asked, Coach Malone said he doesn't plan on adding beach chairs, umbrellas or lemonade for the coaches to look on at the players out running through the sand from.
"It's grueling enough for the kids as it is," Malone said. "I think that'd be adding salt to their wounds."
Then he added, "But Coach Jenkins would look good in a big floppy hat and a Hawaiian shirt."