Gladiators armor up and lay the ground work for the upcoming season

Image: Coach Brandon Duncan observes while Kevin Roldan(60), a junior, works on blocking techniques.

Coach Brandon Duncan observes while Kevin Roldan(60), a junior, works on blocking techniques. (Barry Byers)

Italy — With week one of two-a-days practices in the equipment bag, the Italy Gladiators ended the challenge dressed in full pads glad to be representing the old gold and white in front of a number of fans that had stopped by the practices to get an early peek of what to expect come Fall.

Slowed at times to learn the new systems implemented by a revamped coaching staff, mini coaching clinics are occurring up and down the field in an effort to speed up the learning curve for the long run. On Friday, despite being in pads, the timing in the passing game is showing signs of improving from quarterbacks to receivers. The players are very supportive of each other when things are a bit off the mark because they realize their collective ability to hit a big play on the next snap.

During a short break, for example, before the beginning of a team drill, tailback Ryheem Walker gave his offensive lineman love taps on their helmets. Later, after a couple of drops, teammates could be heard offering support to the quarterbacks by letting them know the passes were on the money. And soon enough, Trevon Robertson was on the receiving end of a long pass play along with Caden Jacinto who made a two-handed grab in traffic to slip past the defense. Justin Wood hauled in a long gainer as well and is proving to be one of the team’s most reliable receivers.

The running backs have done an excellent job in the ground game by reading their blocks and finding the open running lanes. As Jalarnce Lewis, Shad Newman, and Walker get more comfortable in the drills and with the system there natural talents are quickly shining through.

Defensively, Chase Hamilton had a couple of tackles deep in the backfield while Adrian “BoBo” Reed laid one of the bigger hits on the day. Paul Harris and Darol Mayberry had solid afternoons on the line receiving praise from AD/Head coach Hank Hollywood while Robertson and Eric Carson both intercepted passes in the secondary.

Talking with the players after Friday’s practice, however, none were satisfied with their performance. Whether chatting with a lineman or a skill back, everyone felt they could have done more. That “wanting to do better” is the attitude that will carry this team far.

The JV will have Ryan Connor at the helm with Kyle Fortenberry at center. Fortenberry, fellow lineman Colin Newman, receiver Cody Boyd, and a versatile John Escamilla are the only players returning from last season’s district championship squad. Levi McBride, Ty Windham, John Hughes, John Byers and Justin Robinson will help fill the voids left by last season’s overachievers, along with one or two others. Tre Jackson will be in the backfield along with Jaray Anderson during next Saturdays scrimmage against Valley Mills at 9:00 a.m. in Italy on August 18, followed by the Varsity scrimmage at 10:00 a.m.

Go Italy!