There was a time when cars would cruise down the gravel driveway at Rocky Mount Academy, park their cars in the grass and watch an Eagles football practice in which it was hard to differentiate varsity from junior varsity players.
Mostly out of need due to a lack of numbers, the Eagles often suited up players who had not yet grown into their red, white and blue jerseys.
That no longer is the case on Avondale Avenue, where coach B.W. Holt’s players have thicker calf muscles, leaner biceps and bulkier chests than any of the Eagles’ teams in recent memory.
Some even have the attitude to match the physique.
“It’s good to know that you’re stronger than the other guy, and if it came down to it, you could overpower him,” Eagles lineman Eric Robertson said.
Rocky Mount Academy is showing improved looks and results through the first month of Holt’s second campaign at the school.
The Eagles (2-1) are not a finished product by any means, but they have displayed a new on Friday nights and the practice field.
Minus a 72-40 loss two weeks ago at Hobgood Academy, the Eagles have outscored their opponents, 101-14.
Holt senses the improvement with his eyes and his ears.
On Thursday afternoon in preparation for tonight’s game against Raleigh Word of God, the Eagles spent the first 20 minutes of practice almost flawlessly going over a list of 22 game situations.
Everything from the defense forcing a safety to desperation kickoff returns were covered.
Players made few, if any, mistakes and rotated through the plays as if they had studied all summer for a final exam.
Holt said he knew the practice was running well because he heard a great deal of silence. Only the shuffling of players on and off the field as assistant coach Nick Harrison called out the plays broke what was a quiet session.
“We have an understanding of what we want to do now,” Holt said. “The mindset of our kids has totally changed.”
The Eagles had less than a handful of reserve players two seasons ago. Now, that number is in the mid-30s.
It’s not just a number that has swelled because of interest. It is a team that now follows an offseason program and participates in weighlifting as part of its curriculum.
Most of all, it is a team that competes because the program no longer is simply putting the best eight out of 11 players on the field.
If a player misses practice or fails to perform up to standards, there are enough bodies to replace him.
“There aren’t that many people wanting to commit that much time to football at the school, but the people that are are going to commit 100 percent,” senior Chandler Clontz said.
The squad has a better balance to it than it Holt’s first season that finished with a 4-6 record and first-round playoffs appearance. Even Holt, who previously coached state-title contending teams at Rocky Mount High before taking a three-year hiatus, had to make adjustments a season ago.
He did not have the personnel to run his Double Wing offense, and defensively, alignments needed to be shifted.
It all has come together this season with a balanced offense that lost 1,000-yard rusher Adam Bayless last season and a defense that tries to make sure six men are around the ball on every play with two more on the approach.
“Adam Bayless was a great player, but he wasn’t the team,” senior offensive lineman Cam Graham said.
Add in a coaching staff that has a mix of veterans and young coaches with recent college playing experience, and the Eagles have a staff that is unique to the Twin Counties.
“We have a lot of experience and knowledge to help us learn to be the best we can be,” Eagles defensive end/middle linebacker Jaequan Mills said.
Even if Raleigh Word of God, a past state champion, wasn’t 0-3 coming into tonight, it’s a sure bet Rocky Mount Academy would be confident in what they have built thus far.
“It has been fun,” Holt said. “I’ve enjoyed it, and I’ve appreciated them giving me the opportunity to coach again. I truly missed it.”
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or email@example.com