Prep Football: A.L. Brown practice

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 6, 2014

KANNAPOLIIS — There’s no precise conversion rate available, but the general feeling is that a 7-5 football season at A.L. Brown is like 2-9 most places.
Sure four of the five losses in 2013 were to outstanding teams and, yes, the Wonders are a relatively tiny 4A program competing in the 4A MECKA with some super-sized, 2,000-student monsters, but 7-5 is 7-5.
No explanations, no excuses — just results, please.
The Wonders haven’t stumbled through a losing season since 1977. That amazing run won’t stop this year unless a lot of guys get hurt, but A.L. Brown also hadn’t experienced five losses in a season since 1996.
Five losses, including two straight to abruptly end the season, hurt everyone involved with the program. That means it’s back-to-work time.
“Two-a-days tomorrow,” barks head coach Mike Newsome, as exhausted Wonders, drained from practice-closing wind sprints on the baseball outfield, find seats on the ground around him. “No transportation is not an excuse. We let you know a week ago this was coming. Eat breakfast.”
The Wonders will report today for a morning session from 8 until 11. They’ll return at 6 p.m. — until. That until will depend on when coaches are satisfied.
Newsome is sporting eyeglasses that make him look sort of like a professor of sociology. They create an interesting contrast with his familiar glistening, shaved head.
“Well, it’s pretty simple — I couldn’t see,” said Newsome, who started wearing glasses last February. “Now I can’t do without them. I never take them off.”
The numbers are down a bit, but the norm at A.L. Brown is a little higher than most places.
“Usually it’s about 130 kids that come out, but it’s more like 120 this time,” Newsome said. “Probably we’ll have about 110 who are solid. You’re going to a lose a few.”
It’s possible a few melted away on Tuesday. It was the first hot day since official practice started. It was a long workout and pretty relentless. One group that was deemed to have turned in a less than satisfactory practice was held over another 10 minutes for extra pushups and situps.
It was pushing, not punishment. If you plan to play for A.L. Brown, you’re going to be pushed.
The loudest voice at practice was a surprise. It belonged to T.J. Johnson, a fine receiver for the Wonders in the Ron Massey days. Johnson caught a touchdown pass for UNC Pembroke that helped beat Tusculum last October. Now he’s graduated from UNCP with a degree in Exercise and Sports Science.
Johnson, the older brother of Virginia wideout Keeon Johnson, traveled a detour-filled path to his degree. He starred at Garden City Community College in Kansas before resurfacing at UNC Pembroke.
“T.J.’s got that piece of paper and he did it the hard way,” assistant coach Jeremy Ryan said.
Ryan has been around the block. This will be his 20th high school coaching season and his 18th with the Wonders. He’s been in green since the Bruce Hardin Era and will coach his sixth different position this year. Ryan is laid-back, the opposite of Johnson.
Johnson pushes a lot, yells a lot and stomps a lot — although he never curses. He’s put in charge of that group that is deemed to need extra conditioning. He’s like their ISS teacher.
“These kids are kinda hating T.J. right now,” Ryan said with a laugh. “But they’re going to end up loving him. T.J. is great for those kids that need that push because he was one of those kids.”
Johnson is qualified to work in physical therapy or to lead the wellness program for a YMCA or corporation, but until he finds the right job, he’s putting in time with the Wonders.
“He’s got some juice,” Ryan said. “He’s our energy guy.”
“T.J. is emotional,” added Newsome. “He’s one of the best acquisitions we made in the offseason.”
Another important offseason acquisition was Travis Billings. Billings, who starred as an offensive lineman at South Rowan in the 1990s and played at Western Carolina, has most recently been the defensive coordinator at Carson.
“Having a guy with coordinator experience really helps us, and Travis is working with our defensive linemen and our defensive fronts,” Newsome said. “Having him here, we’ll have the coaches to run different drills with two sets of defensive linemen at the same time.”
The first day for scrimmages is Monday, Aug. 11. The Wonders will go to Mooresville for a “controlled scrimmage.”
On Friday, Aug. 15, the Wonders will scrimmage in conditions close to a normal game in the Cabarrus Jamboree. The Cabarrus Jamboree rotates between Concord and A.L. Brown. It will start at 6 p.m. at Brown’s Memorial Stadium this time. Robinson will take on East Meck at 6. Concord will tangle with Butler at 7. The Wonders will battle East Rowan at 8.
Newsome said he’s heard some howls about Concord being matched up with 4A power Butler, but he had a reasonable explanation, keeping in mind that the Wonders will open at Concord on Aug. 22.
“Butler runs a lot of the same stuff we do,” said Newsome, who coached Butler before he came to A.L. Brown. “We anticipate East Rowan is going to run similar stuff to Concord since East’s new coach (Kenneth McClamrock) came from Concord. That should give both Concord and us a pretty good look at what we’ll see when we play each other.”
Starting the season with Concord — at Concord — isn’t the ideal way to open. Concord has exceptional returners, led by running back Rocky Reid, a Tennessee commit who figures to be one of the state’s best.
“It is a tough first game and it puts pressure on kids who are playing their first varsity game in a Bell Game,” Newsome said. “What it means is we’ve got to be on top of our game in that very first game.”
Newsome was recently named as the West coach for next summer’s East-West All-Star Game, but his most immediate job is to lead a bounce-back from 7-5.
History is on his side, The last time the Wonders lost five — the 6-5 season in 1996 — that pain provided the fuel for 15-1 and a 3A state-championship run in 1997.