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‘Ahead of the game’

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Garret Cook, at left, and Logan Bunn, at right, come off the line of scrimmage during a drill. 

Before many members of last year’s 11-1 Bolivar High School football team set cleated foot under the Friday night lights, they tied their laces as middle school athletes. 

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Lucas Pock catches a snap during a drill.

Bolivar Middle School coach Stacy Wells and his staff spent the week working to develop the next generation of varsity Liberators during a team camp held over four days at the high school. 

Fall practices start Monday, Aug. 17, he said. 

“We’re able to get everybody used to the system and what formations we’ll use, and then we go from there,” Wells said. “It puts us ahead of the game starting out. It probably saves us a week of instruction in the fall.”

That’s important, Wells said, because some of his athletes have never played football before. 

“We try to keep everything basic, like footwork,” he said. “We do a lot of individual drills so that these kids are getting time directly with their coach to pick up the nuances, like how to turn, how to block and how to get your body around when we’re blocking. If they’re a quarterback, they’re learning to read defenses.”

There’s a lot to learn in a short amount of time, but Wells said coaches try to keep it simple at the middle school level. 

“This gives us a chance to get terminology in,” he said. “We kind of get formations in. We don’t run a ton of different plays, but we run a ton of formations.”

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Granton Bayless charges forward during a team drill. 

The strategy has worked out well in the past, Wells said. The team was strong last year, frequently outmatching larger, more physically imposing teams. 

“We always say that everywhere we go we’ve got the smallest team,” he said. “Sometimes that’s both our roster and kids. We started last year at Waynesville, and those kids were huge and had huge numbers. But we kept after them and kept after them, and we pulled out a victory.”

Wells said the program’s attendance numbers have been lower at camp, but that’s to be expected.

“We’re having a hard time right now with COVID-19 and people trying to get vacations in before school starts,” he said. “Numbers are a little down for camp, but we have that every year. I think we look really good.”

Wells’ confidence in his team comes as the Liberators plan a schedule mirroring the one Bolivar’s high school team will play. Several large Springfield area schools are on the calendar. 

“We’ll do well because we have this strength that comes from all the groups that came before us,” Wells said. “A lot of these kids’ dads, uncles and older brothers have played here, and they have that inside them.”

Wells said Bolivar’s labeled that identity “blue collar, gold swagger.”

“We try to instill it and start it in seventh grade, so it just carries over to when they get out with the big boys,” he said. 

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