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New head coach, Rebels focusing on preparation
John Ford
Rebels head coach John Ford is shown during a May scrimmage against Wayne County in Jesup. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

SPRINGFIELD — Football practice had just ended at Effingham County High School on a lazy Wednesday summer morning and first-year coach John Ford gathered his players and recited a quote from that famous football philosopher … Abraham Lincoln?

“Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe,’ ”Ford said. 

These are the days when Ford and the Rebels are sharpening their axes in preparation for swings at the rapidly approaching football season.

“(The quote from Lincoln) was something I heard Dabo Swinney say at a football camp once,” Ford said. “You’re always trying to find different ways to stress the importance of preparation.”

For ECHS, like many schools in southeast Georgia, football preparation is a year-long task in hopes of a four-month seasonal reward.

Athletes rarely take time off from lifting weights and, except for two Georgia High School Association mandated “dead weeks” (no practice allowed), football workouts are held throughout the summer.

A dead week began Monday and will end July 4. And on July 5, the Rebels restart sharpening their axes. In accordance with the GHSA, formal conditioning begins the final week of July. Pads go on in August and ECHS starts chopping into the season at home against Beaufort, S.C., on Aug. 27.

“The kids have been working hard and I’ve been pleased with their attitude and mindset,” Ford said. “From spring to now, I feel like we’ve taken positive steps in some things. We’re working hard in the weight room and progressing every day.”

Ten practices in the spring and the three weeks in June have served as an acclimation period for Ford, several new assistant coaches and the ECHS players.

Ford was hired in January and inherited a team that won just three games last season and two the previous year.

He doesn’t want to talk about impact players just yet and hasn’t made a big deal over the Rebels’ 28-13 win over Wayne County in the spring game.

But Ford feels good about the biggest question mark surrounding the team — quarterback. Senior Matthew Ford and sophomore Nate Hayes continue to battle for the starting job held the last two seasons by Zach Garcia, who is headed to play at St. Augustine’s University.

“Matthew and Nate have been doing a great job,” John Ford said. “They played well against Vidalia in 7-on-7 (June 14) and went to South Carolina (June 17) and competed. The repetitions they’re getting are invaluable.

“Right now, they’re working on timing and consistency, getting camaraderie down with the receivers.”

Other positions continue with similar focus on techni

“Even though we don’t have pads on, you still want the fundamentals,” Ford said. “The O-line is working against hand shields and bags instead of full-time collisions. There’s footwork and communication to work on. The defense is still going to work their tackle circuit. The D-line is still going to work their hand placements and first steps and rush.”

As July rolls in, Ford said special teams play will be added.

And, of course, the players continue to lift weights.

“You want to be prepared for what’s coming next so when it comes, you’re ready,” Ford said. “That’s what Dabo Swinney was talking about using Abraham Lincoln’s quote. Coach Swinney is obviously a great coach so I try to steal things from coaches who are greater than me.”

Ford said the Rebels will attend a 7-on-7 tournament in Vidalia on July 8 and a two-day OTA (organized team activity) at Bleckley County High School on July 14-15.