The intensity has definitely picked up on the Gladiators’ side of the ball this week as Italy prepares to do Homecoming battle against the Hubbard Jaguars. Gladiator practices are no place for the weak. Former players returning for the Friday night festivities would cringe at some of the hits being dished out in preparation for the game.
The Junior Varsity will not play this week but give great looks to the Varsity units by going hard during practice. Can’t say enough about the leadership and toughness of J.V. quarterback Tony Wooldridge who gives a workman like effort during the sets. The watchmakers at Rolex® would be in awe of the pounding Wooldridge absorbs…and he keeps right on ticking.
Having a chance to review the game film from the Italy win over Palmer, there were several performances worth noting. For starters, the offensive line deserves credit for their efforts last Friday night. On several plays, the blockers up front literally pushed the Bulldogs larger defensive line backwards. Right tackle Larry Mayberry displayed Reggie White (formerly of the NFL) type power as he lifted Bulldogs off the ground. The combination of Mayberry and Bobby Wilson at guard proved devastating to Palmer’s defenses.
Left guard Omar Estrada and left tackle Brandon Souder were tough, I mean tough, against Palmer as well. Estrada executed blocking assignments with precision and continues to be a solid performer for line coach Stephen Coleman. I was really Impressed with Souder on one particular play when the opponent Souder was blocking had a handful of his facemask but was unable to shake the scrappy Gladiator from doing his job.
Jacob Gonzalez who splits time with Wilson at the guard spot, was lightning fast off the snap of the ball, proving you don’t have to be the biggest dog in the fight, just the hungriest. Center Ethan Simon’s hikes were on the mark and he left a few marks on Palmer helmets as well. Also a big hitter on defense, Simon is one of those players that your glad he’s on your team, and we are.
At receiver, Jase Holden reached another level against Palmer. After an outstanding season on the Gladiators Junior Varsity squad in 2009, Holden showed he can bring the same playmaking ability to the Varsity level.
And basketball superstar Colton Campbell laced up the cleats before the sneakers this season and played brilliantly against Palmer. With a touchdown reception two weeks ago against Maypearl, Campbell was a threat in the Palmer game as well. Equally impressive, were Campbell’s smart plays on the defensive side of the ball.
In fact, every receiver for head coach Craig Bales made a play in the passing game against the Bulldogs. Heath Clemons and De’Andre Sephus turned in some of Italy’s longest ground gaining plays thru the air. However, it was a crunching block delivered by receiver Devonta Simmons on a running play, a de-cleater, that got the attention of one hapless Bulldog defender.
Defensively for the Gladiators, the unit as a whole did well holding the Bulldogs to only 7-points. The compact speed of noseguard Jalarnce Jamal Lewis was simply unfair to Palmer’s towering offensive line. In on a few tackles, Lewis also poked the ball loose from a Bulldog runner, scooped it up and ran 40 plus yards for a touchdown that was called back due to an inadvertent whistle.
Also active on defense was baseball pitching ace Justin Buchanan who, like Campbell, joined their Gladiator teammates on the grid-iron to help in the team’s quest for a district title. Along with Simon, Wilson and linebacker Jasenio Anderson, Kyle Jackson and Kyle Wilkins continued to seek out somebody to hit Friday night as they have since the beginning of the season.
A hit by Jackson to dislodge a Palmer runner from the ball to start the second half, which was recovered by Corrin Frazier, a solo tackle by Chase Hamilton and the amazing punting talents of Anderson highlighted Italy’s special teams accomplishments. Anderson’s three rushing touchdowns and one by Jackson punctuated Italy’s offensive performance. Frazier’s fumble recovery on the kickoff, two tackles, an interception, along with several passes broken up by the secondary group, have left the Gladiators eager for more.
Homecoming is always a fun time and a chance to reunite with one’s old classmates. However, it’s the Gladiators on the field that promise to make Homecoming 2010 a memorable one for fans.