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Tigers look strong in off-season scrimmages
Two days of tests shows-off team potential
The Tigers defense swarms to the ball in a scrimmage with North Forsyth on June 12 during the off-season’s first skills camp. - photo by Bob Christian

The Dawson County Tigers continued the rebuilding process for 2019 on June 11-12 as the team participated in the first of three full pad skills camps at Pickens County High School. With two weeks of practice in the books, the camp was the first chance for offensive coordinator Andy LeBlanc to run plays at contact speed.

“It’s another opportunity to evaluate the kids,” LeBlanc said. “With so many positions still open on the roster this gives them a chance to show us what they’re made of.”

Over a dozen teams from across northeast Georgia attended the two-day event with most of region 7-AAA on hand for what also served as a first chance to get a glimpse of this year’s opposition.

Both days of camp started with the team being broken down by position and squad, and then walking through the playset for the day to learn the various scenarios, placements, and schemes that make up the Tigers playbook.

Every play is accompanied with a voice command and a set of hand signals with the goal of eliminating the voice command as the regular season approaches, one of the many aspects of the One Dawson philosophy being instilled in the Tigers each year they are in the program.

“I am a big fan of watching these kids grow from season to season, build their confidence,” LeBlanc said. “Every once in awhile the light bulb goes off, and they get it, they see that it works and then they are really after it.”

After the walk-through portion of the morning, they teams participated in 15-minute head to head drills in a round robin style format with the opportunity to play both offense and defense. The afternoon transitioned into a series of team scrimmages more resembling traditional football.

“Competition is the best motivator,” LeBlanc said. “We are in no hurry to make decisions about the roster. This just gives them more experience.”

For senior Brody Howell and junior Dakohta Sonnichsen the camp offered the best opportunity of the off-season for them to put some work into their expanded roles on offense. Howell fired up the Tigers after coming down with the ball through tight coverage as he worked on receiving routes and Sonnichsen continued to demonstrate his unique combination of speed and toughness by routinely lowering his shoulder to directly challenge opposing linebackers.

“It will be good to get out on the field again,” Sonnichsen said. “I have really been looking forward to getting out there and playing some football.”

Less than 24-hours after the end of camp, the Tigers were gathered in the Performance Arts Center at Dawson County High School watching a combination of drone and overhead footage taken over the last two days.

The ability to immediately review formations and play execution is critical to the success of the team in the mind of 6-8 grade coach Andrew Grigsby and greatly enhanced any benefits received from attending the skills camp.

“We live in a world of instant gratification,” Grigsby said. “To be able to come back and show these kids how it looked the next day is big… they remember that play, that cut, and it is easier to show them where to improve.”

Using a rather glaring example of a badly executed quarterback run option in which the quarterback did not identify the running lane and, instead, pitched the ball to the outside for short yardage, Grigsby continued to explain the importance of the film.

“Now that he has seen that and been able to see what happened during the play,” Grigsby said. “We will go out on the field and begin to work on it and, right away, we should see some results.”

With over 53 days remaining until the first game of the year there is still a lot of work to be done with the team, and that is reflected with the addition of two more padded camps to the normal practice schedule this summer, but defensive coach Gregory Baloga sees great potential in this year’s team.

“When we ask them to run through the wall, they run through the wall,” Baloga said. “They are a good group of kids with a high ceiling, all they need is experience.”