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Rebels compete in padded camp
Rebels helmet
John Ford was selected from a field of approximately 75-80 candidates.

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

There’s a monotony to summer football workouts. Hot days blend together as the grind becomes unvarying.

Bleckley County High School’s padded camp came at just the right time for the Effingham County Rebels to break up the routine.

“It was good for us to jump in the deep end and see if we could swim. I knew we’d get better,” said ECHS coach John Ford about attending the camp July 14-15.

The Rebels’ first-year coach had some first-hand knowledge of what his players would see during their 36-hour stay in Cochran. Ford was the defensive coordinator at Bleckley for two years before being hired in Springfield in January.

Ford said ECHS had a chance to play against quality competition in a different environment. Padded camps provide 11-on-11 action in helmets and shoulder pads with “thud” contact — engaging an opponent without taking him to the ground.

There were other benefits. A shared experience helped the Rebels bond. To cut down expenses, ECHS players and coaches (more than 80) slept in the Bleckley County High School gym.

“It was good for us and good for me personally,” Ford said. “It was good to spend time together.”

And from the practice field, it was good to have film of plays at full speed.

“Some things worked and some didn’t,” Ford admitted.

The strong field included Class AAAAA state champion Warner Robins and Class AA runnerup Fitzgerald.

“I think it helped playing good teams like Warner Robins,” said senior Matthew Ford, who is battling for the Rebels starting quarterback job. “I think I did pretty good (overall). I have some stuff to fix. There’s room for improvement. We’re all getting better.”

The starting quarterback job remains a focal point in camp as the 2021 football season comes into view. ECHS must replace two-year starter Zach Garcia, who graduated and will play at St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, N.C.

“Matthew is gaining more command of the offense,” John Ford said. “You can tell he’s feeling more comfortable in the scheme and doing a good job moving the sticks.”

Ford grouped Matthew Ford and sophomore quarterback hopeful Nate Hayes together, saying they both looked “awesome”.

“We got a ton of good reps against good people,” John Ford said. “You see how the kids compete, how they’ll handle the heat. You get a look at some of the things we’ve been working on. The Georgia High School Association’s official heat acclimation period begins Monday (July 26).

The first day state high school football teams are allowed in pads is Aug. 1.

ECHS opens the 2021 football season at home against the Beaufort (S.C.) Eagles on Aug. 27.

“I think we’re going to be pretty good, especially after putting in hard work and getting experiences like this,” Matthew Ford said. “We’re getting (closer as a team) as we get closer to the season.”