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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Reeltown hosts an OTA with Tallassee and Montgomery Academy on Thursday morning.

Many fans around Reeltown and Tallassee have already marked a date on their 2020 calendars. The two teams have decided to renew their age-old rivalry by opening the season next year against one another.

But fans got a small taste of what’s to come in a year Thursday morning when Reeltown hosted its annual organized team activities (OTAs) with the Tigers and Montgomery Academy.

It was easy to see how ready the players are to go. Especially when the Tallassee and Rebel linemen went up against each other, the hunger was evident in their body language.

“It gets chippy, don’t it?” Reeltown coach Matt Johnson said with a laugh.

The best part for all three teams during Thursday’s OTAs was the sheer number of reps each player got, which is essential this close to the season. Like a typical OTA, Reeltown’s started with one-on-one drills followed by position-group work. The teams then split into 7-on-7s while the linemen faced off. Finally, everyone came together for real game situations.

“There’s nothing that we do practice wise or even in season that we get this many reps in this short of a time,” Johnson said. “We’re out here an hour and 40 minutes and we’re getting just a ton of reps. We’re eight plays and we’re out. Everybody is moving quick. This is the third or fourth year we’ve done this, so all three (coaches) know the schedule and how fast we wanna move, and it just gets better and better every year.” 

There’s only two days left for the Rebels during summer, and much of Monday and Tuesday’s workouts will be spent doing the Reeltown Iron Man competition. The Rebels will go against each other in a series of competitions, such as 40-yard dash, weight room competition, attendance and more, to determine the “Iron Man” of the summer.

That being said, the Iron Man competition also ushers in the start of the season. Official practice is just a few days away, and although Johnson said the Rebels aren’t necessarily where he thought they’d be at the beginning at the summer, he’s actually extremely pleased with their progress.

“You always overplan,” Johnson said. “Just like in the classroom, you overplan then you gotta master stuff before you move forward. I feel like our foundation and what we’ve done, we’re starting to master that so we can start moving a little bit forward. I think we’re where we want to be going into the fall — maybe not where we planned early in the summer, but that’s not a bad thing.”

But while it’s important at OTAs to identity your strengths, it’s probably more important to identify what still needs work, especially this late in the game. With so much returning offensively, there aren’t many questions on that side of the ball. But defensively, it’s a different story.

“The biggest thing is depth defensively,” Johnson said. “I feel like our first group right now is good but we’re still looking for depth there.”

What Johnson has been most impressed by, though, is his team’s sheer work ethic. He’s recently said it’s the Rebels’ best offseason to date during his four-year tenure, and even with the season less than a month away, that hard work isn’t stopping any time soon.

“For every position on both sides of the ball really, the second group is making the first group better and that’s huge,” Johnson said. “There’s nobody that’s satisfied being No. 1 and nobody saying, ‘Man, I’m No. 2’ and ducking their heads. Everybody is still competing. The 1s are competing to keep their spots and the 2s are competing to get their spots.” 

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.