Benjamin Russell football vs Stanhope Elmore

Jake Arthur/ Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc. Benjamin Russell head coach Aubrey Blackwell at the football game between Benjamin Russell and Stanhope Elmore on Friday, Sept. 4, 2021. Stanhope Elmore won the game 42-20.

With the exception of Dadeville, who doesn’t play a game in the first or last week of this season, each team covered by The Outlook receives a bye during Week 5 or 6 of their schedule in 2021.

Teams utilize the week without an opponent for a variety of objectives, primarily returning as many players as possible to full health, fixing a few flaws that have appeared in the first half of the season, getting young players experience and putting in extra preparation for upcoming opponents.

“We shorten practice, we really get back to and extend our fundamentals, we extend our depth building,” Benjamin Russell coach Aubrey Blackwell said. “We’ll have some crossover periods and we’ll build our twos, our backups, a little bit more this week than we normally do to try to just work on building some depth.”

The Wildcats have already shifted to some preparations for Pelham, its next game, given the importance of the contest and shortened week leading up to it.

Benjamin Russell plays the Panthers on Thursday, Oct. 7, and enters with an 0-3 record in region play.

For that reason, Blackwell called the contest a “must win” for the Wildcats’ playoff chances. He and his staff are preparing for Pelham’s triple-option attack accordingly.

“We’re gonna go ahead and start working on them on the field with our varsity guys,” Blackwell said. “Start seeing it. Start working on their cards and doing those things, try to get them prepared for the triple option, because that’s not something that you learn easily.”

Varsity received Monday and Friday off, while an extra day in the weightroom was added specifically to improve the team’s flexibility and injury prevention. Players not at 100 percent will be given especially light loads to heal during the bye while the team reduces the length of its contact periods in practice, Blackwell said.

“We’ll have our weekly yoga on Friday, probably, this week, try to give them one last really good stretch before we start next week,” Blackwell said. “I give them Monday and Friday off, which is really important because it gives them a chance to catch up on their school work. In a week like this, all of our guys are to have all their makeup work done and everything.”

Injury recovery and prevention is a common theme across the area for the free stretch of seven days.

Horseshoe Bend was originally supposed to practice three times last week during its bye but only practiced twice in the end after several players were out sick Thursday of last week.

The two days the Generals spent on the practice field were used for [paraphrase]

“Just kind of taking care of yourself, more or less, this week,” Horseshoe Bend coach Jeremy Phillips said Sept. 21. “Today we had a live practice for B.B. Comer, just kind of going over what they’re doing for next week. We’re going through their tendencies, going through our group work period, working on fundamentals. Then Wednesday will be more like a regular practice.”

Reeltown spent its bye retooling a few deficiencies, working specifically on the chemistry between senior quarterback Gabe Bryant and his receivers and ensuring its defense does a better job of getting off the field when it gets the chance to.

“We’ve got to improve in our pass efficiency offensively,” Reeltown coach Matt Johnson said. “We’ve got some receivers that’ve been open, and whether it’s a breakdown in protection or a missed read or missed throw, we’ve had to improve in that area. We’ve got the tools to be really good in that area, but for whatever reason, haven’t executed.

“The other is third-down defense. That’s been something we’ve got to improve on. I told the guys the other day, a reflection of mental toughness and the mental capacity of our football team can be revealed on paper based on our red zone scoring and our third-down defense.”

Much like Benjamin Russell and Horseshoe Bend, the Rebels only scheduled three practices for its bye last week while giving players time to rest and recover.

Its focus rested internally, with future game planning at less of a priority given the benefit of a Friday game this week as opposed to a Thursday one. 

“We really just focused on us,” Johnson said. “Fixed a few things, didn’t necessarily change anything, just had to adjust a few different things that we were doing on both sides of the football and special teams. Then this week we really got into the game planning and scheming for Trinity.”

Central Coosa had back-to-back bye weeks last week and this one, and will be on the hunt for its first win of 2021 when it returns to action against Thorsby Oct. 8.

All bye weeks will be behind local teams soon. The second half of the season and accompanying playoff push starts next week.

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