B y Derek Liebig
There may be several weeks before the Whitehall Railroaders kick off the 2011 football season against the Salem Generals, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t hard at work preparing for their season opener.
The Railroaders were one of four area teams who gathered in Granville last week for the Coaching Connections summer football camp.
Whitehall was joined by teams from Granville, Salem and Greenwich for four days of drills, practice and scrimmaging.
While teams like Granville and Greenwich have participated in the camp for years, it was Whitehall’s first time at the camp and an opportunity for first-time head coach Justin Culligan to work on implementing some plays and giving the players a few different looks.
“The camp allows us to work on some basic things. Its helps the players prepare and gives us a jump start on the season,” Culligan said.
Besides providing a head start to the season, players have an opportunity to refine their skills and work on their technique.
On Thursday, defensive linemen were busy working on their ability to create separation and work through blocks while the offensive linemen refined their footwork and tried to stop their defensive counterparts from getting by them.
Across the field, receivers and running backs worked on sharpening their passing routes while the quarterbacks practiced their three and five step drops and accuracy throwing the ball
The value of the camp and AAU passing leagues, which Whitehall has participated in this summer, is invaluable, coaches said.
“This is a chance for older players to get a head start on the season and for the younger guys to get some experience,” Culligan said. “It gives us a chance to put in some of our base plays.”
Players also have the opportunity to work with coaches from other teams. During the first few days of the camp players would warm up and stretch with teammates, runs a few offensive and defensive plays and then break into positional groups with players and coaches from other teams.
Although technique doesn’t change much, the coaching philosophy can differ from coach to coach and the camp allows players to take something from each coach.
On the last day of camp, each team had the opportunity to scrimmage each other and see where they stood after four days of hard work.
Each team was given the chance to run ten offensive and ten defensive plays against each other on a shortened field.
For some players, it was their first live experience at the varsity level and was a good learning tool for everyone.
At one point during their scrimmage against Granville, Golden Horde head coach Mario Torres stopped everyone and explained what one of his players had done wrong on a play and how to fix the problem, providing a lesson not only to his players, but Whitehall’s as well.
Although their play took a back seat to the lessons and skills they learned, Whitehall fared pretty well, scoring at least one touchdown against each team. “I was pretty impressed,” Culligan said, before adding there was still a lot of work to be done.
Retired coaches Mike Cavata and John Taglione brought their Coaching Connections football camp to Granville for several years before having the Granville coaches take over running the camp. The camp ran for the first year in the summer of 2005.
The former coaches at Shaker High School and Mechanicville, respectively, have essentially franchised their operation, allowing multiple camps to happen around the region without their having to be on scene at each one.
The camp focuses on fundamentals while allowing coaches some time to get a look at those who can attend and start some measure of planning for the season.
The camp isn’t mandatory because it does cost each player some money and with job and family commitments some players simply can’t start the season until mid-August.
Whitehall had anywhere from 12 to 15 players at the camp each night, about the same number as Salem, while Greenwich and Granville each had between two and three dozen players.
Most of the players who attended will be counted on to play a big role during the upcoming season.
“We’ve had most of our starters here and we’ve been able to get some different looks with some different guys at quarterback,” Culligan said. “It’s been going really well.”
The team is eager to start the season and running backs and defensive ends coach Tom Egan said they have a good turnout during their off-season weight-lifting program.
Whitehall will hold its first official practice at 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 15. Potential players who have not signed up are encouraged to contact Culligan or athletic director Keith Redmond at the High School. All players are required to have a physical exam before practicing with the team.
The Railroaders will kick off the regular season at 1 p.m. on Sept. 3 against Salem and will host Lake George in their home-opener at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 9.
For a full schedule, or more information, visit www.whitehallrailroaderfootball.com.