By Gabriel Stovall
STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — They haven’t graduated high school yet, but they’re already playing on Sundays.
A handful of returning Stockbridge football players — as well as two who are set to graduate next month — couldn’t wait until May 11 to get out on the football field again.
Monday May 11 is the day Stockbridge begins spring football workouts — the official starting point to the 2015 season which players like rising senior quarterback Malachi Brown are already dubbing “championship or bust.”
So to scratch the itch, several members of the class of 2016, as well as soon-to-be 2015 graduates Jacob Pinch and Tyree Turner, gather on the Stockbridge football field on as many Sundays as everyone is available for a little unsupervised, semi-casual, completely student-athlete run 7-on-7 action.
It’s something Pinch, a Georgia State signee at slot wide receiver, helped institute last offseason before Stockbridge’s 2014 campaign that featured a region championship, an 11-3 record and a Class AAAAA semifinal finish.
And Pinch says it’s not just a glorified horse-around session either.
“We started this overall just to do some things to keep getting better as a team,” Pinch said. “You know, it takes a lot of stuff to build a true team foundation and that doesn’t just start in the fall or summer. Coming out here is a good set up to build team unity and chemistry so that when we get out on the field in the fall, it’ll show up and we’ll get better.”
Part of the reason why the Sunday sessions have gained popularity with Tiger players is because of the results they saw from them during last season.
“Honestly, I did see a lot of improvements with us doing it last year, with everything from people running cleaner routes to being better in coverages one-on-one in man situations during the season,” Pinch said. “I just saw a lot of improvements.”
Turner, who will play for South Alabama next fall, said that even though he’s not going to be on the Stockbridge field come August, he still sees the Sunday afternoons as an opportunity to help the program.
“It’s just wanting to help get these guys better,” Turner said. “Just do whatever we can to get them better, and have some fun with each other too.”
In the midst of the fun, the action can take on a bit of a serious tenor. Intermingled between some laughs and jokes are the sounds of true competition, like arguing about what down it is, or whether or not a receiver got interfered with, or why Turner hesitated to throw the ball to a wide receiver who had beaten his man on a slant route.
Several players like rising senior wideout Griffin Pritchard were woofing out technical sounding coverage strategies on defense while vigorously fighting against press coverage on offense.
In short, it was clear that some genuine football hunger was at work.
“We just wanted to play football,” said Brown. “We can’t wait to get back to playing football again, even in the offseason. That’s why we’re out here. We just miss it, I guess.”
Perhaps part of that desire stems from the fact that Stockbridge also just missed a chance to play for a state championship in 2014. The Tigers’ season ended with a 30-15 loss to state runner-up Mays — a game that, to this day, virtually everyone who dons the green and orange thinks they should’ve won.
Which is why the pigskin talk keeps permeating their conversations.
“That’s all I’ve really been talking about,” said rising junior Jamari Clark. “Just getting back into football.”
That from a guy who, along with Pinch, make up a solid 4×100 meters relay team for Stockbridge track and field. As runners, they’ll be competing in state sectionals Saturday at Starr’s Mill with a chance to advance to state.
But as a football player, Clark said he’s ready for track to be over, only because he knows what comes next.
“I know track is fun and all that, but all my dad and I have been talking about is trying to get back out on this field in the spring,” Clark said.
Clark’s anxiousness comes from wanting to improve upon his first season as a starting corner. Clark played well enough to recently net two scholarship offers — one from Tuskegee and another from Southern University.
But that college attention hasn’t taken off the edge to want to get better — hence his commitment to coming out to these Sunday workouts as much as possible.
“Last year, I wasn’t as sound as much in my technique, being my first year starting,” he said. “But being out here every Sunday, I can already see me getting better as far as my technique and my footwork go. It’s definitely paying off.”
Pinch, like Turner, has the college game squarely in his sights now. But its his affinity with the returning Stockbridge guys that will keep him busy trying to pour into them every chance he gets before he heads to Georgia State.
“This, for the most part, is the class of 2016,” he said. “And I was really close to this class, and I feel like they have what it takes to go all the way, so any chance to help these guys and make them better, that’s what I want to do.”