Every Friday night that Rocky Mount Prep coach Don Reams stares at a lopsided scoreboard in favor of the opposition, his mind takes him back to the offseason.
The veteran coach sees the school’s weight room last winter, where more middle school football athletes showed up for workouts than high school players. He sees that same weight room in the summer, where small handfuls of players attended workout sessions, well short of the 20 to 25 eager young men he expected to be preparing for the season.
It’s hard for anyone involved in the Jaguars’ program to not share some of Reams’ visions.
Rocky Mount Prep expected some hardships during its first varsity season, but the struggles, in Reams’ opinion, have been highlighted by the lack of commitment shown well before the Jaguars stepped onto the field for practice in early August.
Now, the winless team is paying the price.
“Talking about playing football is different than squatting, benching, running and sweating in the summer,” Reams said. “You have to look yourself in the mirror every morning. What do you want to become, and how are you going to make that happen? Until you say you want to be a champion and put in the work, it won’t happen.”
If Reams were just an enthusiastic, up-and-coming coach, perhaps the Jaguars could listen with pessimistic ears. Reams, however, easily can show his players he is no Johnny-come-lately. He can put on the three state championship rings he earned as an assistant coach at Tarboro during the past 30 years and give testimonies to just how important offseason work means to a team.
“He has been to the mountain top,” senior offensive lineman/middle linebacker Chris Perry said. “He tells us how committed Tarboro is and how he wants to run us out of the weight room like he had to run them out of the weight room.”
The Jaguars have not competed for a victory in any of their seven games this season. Despite the strong offseason commitment of a few players, including Perry, Jared Parker, Kion Wilson and Josh Connie, they have been outscored, 322-62.
The Jaguars have competed against a schedule of mostly 1-A schools that they also will play next season as members of the new Tar River Conference. Most of the Jaguars’ opponents are letting up after three quarters and playing their second- and third-string squads, yet they have scored more than 14 points just once this season and have allowed at least 40 points in every game.
If the Jaguars need any reminder of the required commitment for 2013, Tarboro will be one of the teams they’ll envision. The Vikings will be league members, along with North Edgecombe.
“We’ve got our work cut out,” Reams said. “It comes down to what the players want. After two weeks of this season ending, if they want to find time to get in the weight room and get bigger, faster and stronger, then we’ll have a better chance of competing against teams we play next year.”
Rocky Mount Prep is hopeful that where they play games next season will have some effect on the outcomes. Currently, the Jaguars do not have a home field, forcing them to board a bus each week and experience what they hope to become in the future.
A program with a homefield.
A program with fans that includes not just parents but a student body.
A program with cheerleaders, and maybe even a band.
“We have suffered from a financial and economics perspective from not having a home base,” Jaguars athletics director Warren Davis said. “I think it’ll be a huge step. It’ll be a great opportunity for our seniors to have their family and friends watch them play.”
Davis is in early talks with officials from the city of Rocky Mount about possibly securing a home field for the Jaguars next season.
Whether or not that happens, the Jaguars know they must improve on the field.
They are hopeful of many things, including the development of their middle school players, the return of a junior varsity team, and perhaps one day, a practice facility with lights.
During a practice this week when temperatures dipped lower than normal, Reams noticed that a player seemed to be cold.
Reams walked toward him and whispered some words of knowledge in the player’s ear.
It was not only an experience Reams shared, but a vision for the Jaguars’ future.
“‘It’s only cold in December,” Reams told the player. “‘And if you play for the state championship, it’s not really cold then.’”
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or firstname.lastname@example.org